Moortown embarked on a rolling plan of machinery purchases a decade ago and have not looked back. Secretary Peter Rishworth discusses how replacing little, but often, secures their course maintenance programme
What is the apocalypse for a club in high season?
If the booking system goes down, you can work around it. If there’s a break-in? It’s unpleasant but the club still goes on. But if a vital part of fleet machinery goes down a couple of days before a board competition, and there’s no way to replace it in time, trouble is going to ensue.
What is your most important piece of machinery? And if it was put out of action, what would you do? These were questions Moortown grappled with a few years ago, when they realised their equipment wasn’t modern enough.
The Leeds course, designed by the eminent Dr Alister MacKenzie of Augusta National fame, can draw on a century of tradition and a legacy that has seen them host a Ryder Cup, Open qualifying and many other major tournaments down the decades. “We had got to the point where we hadn’t invested enough in modern equipment and we were coping with old machinery and repairing and making good – rather than putting in a proper programme and replacing after the natural lifespan,” said secretary Peter Rishworth.
“With a new car, you have them six or seven years and they can then cause you problems. Certain bits of machinery out there on the golf course are doing a lot of hours every week and then every year it’s hundreds and into thousands.
“If you try and fix and make good, they are forever breaking down and you even run the risk of damaging the course with leaks or similar – or the finance involved in it is actually self-defeating. “You can find yourself putting more money into a bad bit of kit than if you go in and replace with new.”
So Moortown devised a plan of improvement. Each year, between one and three key items of machinery are replaced on a rolling plan. Greens mowers, for example, are renewed every six years. Fairway mowers the same, while larger equipment, such as tractors, may see 15 to 20 years of life.
It’s allowed Moortown, who use John Deere, to bring in an entirely new fleet over a period of a decade – making them confident, Rishworth explained, that “when you have got a big event or a major such as Captain’s Day, or Lady Captain’s Day, in the club’s diary you are not going to have an equipment issue.” That’s a large commitment for the club but the plan has a lot of flexibility in it – and can be eased depending on finances. ,
”There are a lot of clubs that can spend an awful lot more than we can but most people have to sit down and work out, fundamentally, what is the most important piece of kit”
In any case, the theory is that improving little and often should save them from any nasty surprises. Rishworth said: “If you are running older equipment that you are not sure how vulnerable it is to breaking down – you could lose a fairway mower and a couple of greens mowers in a year and suddenly you’re having to spend to catch up.
In theory, you have got a good plan that will never catch you out, although nothing is foolproof.” Investment decisions at Moortown are taken collectively, with the course manager, chair of greens, Rishworth himself, and the larger committee all having an input. That rolling programme, which has been in place over a long period of time, also helps to override the common issue in committee-run private members’ clubs of people with new ideas coming onto the scene and looking to make changes.
Rishworth is aware Moortown as a club of renown, are in a good position with budget available and others may not have the same resources with which to implement such a long-term replacement plan. But, asked what advice he would give to fellow club managers considering substantial fleet purchases, he believed identifying a shed’s most important product was a must.
“It depends on the finances of the club, I guess,” he explained. “There are a lot of clubs that can spend an awful lot more than we can but most people have to sit down and work out, fundamentally, what is the most important piece of kit. A lot of clubs only have one greens mower, for example, or a greens mower and an old one that’s a backup. If that went down in the middle of June, you’ve got no course in a couple of days. Most courses are cutting every day in the summer so you prioritise. We’ve got a fleet we are happy with and we are just replacing now. But it has taken a few years to get there.”