Turf Equipment – When is it time to replace?

In the golf business Turf Equipment is a huge expense. So when is it time to replace it? It’s the question I get asked every year by many Superintendents, General Manager’s and Owners. The issue is that there is no secret formula to tell people how long equipment will last. While I can tell you that at around 4000 – 4500 hours you will begin to see your repair and maintenance costs rise significantly due to wear a lot depends on how it has been maintained while the other variables are in the components themselves and the job the equipment does.

Over the years after visiting many properties and looking through equipment there are a few things that really play heavily on how long that equipment lasts and most of the time it’s not something everyone wants to hear. The bottom line is that your equipment technician plays a major part in the longevity of that equipment. Now I am not advocating for higher pay for everyone so lets throw that out now. What I am advocating for is that the more time that is spent with each piece of equipment the better shape it will be in and the longer it will last. Lets talk about an example. Let’s say a roller bearing goes out and it isn’t noticed eventually that bearing will wear out the shaft and so a repair goes from (2) $10 bearings to adding a $100 shaft. So the total repair is now $120 when it could have been $20. You can use this analogy across the board on every piece of equipment you own. How many of these things would have to happen before costs sky rocket due to lack of time. Or an even better question is if you had the time to catch these things how much money would you save?  This is why what I do advocate for is companies trying to find creative ways to help the technician in the shop whether it is by adding an assistant, assistant superintendents learning how to work on things, or bringing someone off the crew in to help. In this case it’s not about how skilled your tech is its about how much time he has to really check things out.

In the consulting I do I have a unique approach to it. I don’t guarantee I can save a club money for one. At least not in the short term. There are so many clubs out there barely getting by with what they have and want to call in a consultant to figure out ways to save money. Sometimes it’s just not possible. What I do promise is that when I am done you will have a road map to success not that I create but that “we” create. The issue I have with some consultants is they come and tell you what to do, they don’t work with you, they don’t try to understand the situation, they use a cookie cutter game plan that does not work for every facility. Everyone is unique, everyone has challenges and many just need education from a different perpective to get back on the right track.

Now back on topic. Many of the issues we all have is that we have a lot of equipment. Much of it old, some of it we save for backups, most of it is all way more than we really need. The problem with stockpiling old equipment is that every piece has a cost. They all require maintenance and care. The more of it you have the more time it takes for an equipment tech to get around all of it. However the biggest issue is cost. We get a new fleet and keep a bunch of backups from the old one and the R&M dollars we were planning to save ends up either getting tied up in the old equipment or less gets done to the new equiment so we can salvage some of the old stuff. It becomes a nightmare to manage and we end up after a year or 2 of having a lot of mediocre equipment instead of a small amount of really great equipment.

The other thing I see a lot of is equipment leasing. This can be a really great thing in the right situations. The biggest benefit is that most of your time is spent really just maintaining it not huge repairs, also it takes the peaks and valleys out of R&M and keeps things consistent. Typically at an 18 hole golf course I see around $40,000 on R&M depending on fleet size and that will remain fairly consistent through the term of the lease. However it also doesn’t require a huge capital outlay of funds. I typically see leased fleets range from $15,000 – $20,000 per month at 18 hole facilities. A lot is to be said about negotiating lease terms. There can be a lot of savings there if it is done correctly.

The answer to the question when is it time to replace is not a simple one. However, if you have the resources to manage the fleet as intended typically what I see is you can keep the equipment to around 4000 hours or so before you see a huge decline. If you don’t have the resources (budget, people, time) to maintain the fleet as intended you can divide that by 2 at about 2000 hours or less you will start seeing a huge decline. Obviously this is different depending on the equipment. For instance I am not saying a Tractor or Front End loader will only last 4000 hours. I am also not saying a greens aerator will last 4000 hours so it depends on the type of machine, how it is used, and how it is maintained. There will be equipment out there that will go 7000 or 8000 hours. I have a workman that has that many hours and is still being used today. It doesn’t mean the money we have spent on it could not have bought another one by now, however every situation is different and has to be evaluated as such.

I will close with this. Consultants are great but selection is key. I tell the facilities I work with that my goal is to work my way out of a job not into one. If I do my job well you won’t need me in the future but I am also looking at it from and Equipment standpoint and not necessarily agronomic. If your going to consult golf courses please give them a plan that ultimately gets the operation on the right path and not one that never gets them out of the hole. The right answer isn’t always saving money but at least the club will know where they stand. There are some very good consultants out there just make sure you choose the right one for your situation.

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