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Maintaining Grounds Equipment, an interview with John Reilly

by Bruce Wenning

John Reilly is head mechanic at The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts. The Country Club is the oldest country club in the United States. It’s a 27-hole club situated on 213 acres. From 1902 to 2013 it has hosted many professional events including three U.S. Open tournaments with the next one slated for 2022.

John, what are your major responsibilities as head mechanic?

I’m responsible for the preventative maintenance, immediate repairs and emergency repairs of all grounds equipment. Equipment ranges from tractors, backhoes, sit-down mowers to push mowers, backpack blowers, weed-wackers, chainsaws, power pole pruners and golf carts. We have a separate room in our shop that has a reel and bedknife grinding machine that allows us to be very precise when sharpening mower blades.

John moves from one maintenance project to another. Over the winter, all motorized equipment gets a final maintenance inspection and repair before the season starts.

Is there anything else related to tools or equipment?

Yes. I suggest and make recommendations about new equipment and tool purchases. I also send out some equipment for repair that otherwise would be too time consuming and costly to repair on our own. That decision helps alleviate [overcommitting our staff and allows] more available time and labor for our daily schedules.

Does the equipment, because of its daily use, need more frequent maintenance checks than most landscaping outfits? Please explain for our readers.

We have a large grounds department. It actually is a separate building for equipment storage with an attached shop where most repairs of all sorts are done. We also have a large turf management crew that operates the various mowing machines, trucks, tractors, and the like and all is under the direction of our grounds director and assistants who make the daily and weekly maintenance schedules that we follow.

All or almost all of our gas and diesel powered machines can be in use at the same time at different areas of the golf course. All mowing must be done prior to golfers arriving for personal play or a tournament.

The various mowing machines are pertinent for golf course turf care because they are used for cutting at specified heights to accommodate golf play. These mowing machines need to be sharpened more frequently than what landscapers may do with their mowing equipment.

Keeping mower blades sharp on the different mowing machines ensures a clean turf blade cut (not ripped or torn). This is essential to minimize fungal pathogens from being spread by dull blades which would contribute to disease spread.

Ripped turf grass blades may alter golf ball direction, slightly affecting accuracy, and hinder ball speed which all can contribute greatly to golfer frustration. Therefore, consistent and precise mower blade sharpening is an integral management component for turf grass disease suppression and “the play of the ball.” Our reel and bedknife grinding machine makes it all happen.

Mowers, golf carts, and other motorized equipment are inspected for repairs and given tune-ups before the season starts

If you had to send out any of your high use equipment for servicing off site, how would that impact golf course maintenance schedules?

Golf course maintenance is influenced or affected by daily weather events. The course is full of microclimates with its undulating terrain and this type of landscape affects irrigation schedules, growth rates of turf grasses, disease development, insect pest pressure and weed colonization. These management pressures never stop during the golfing season.

With that in mind, if the Club had to outsource our equipment for servicing we would need to offset the down time of not having the needed equipment by investing in many more machines that we have no room for storing. It would prove to be too chaotic. It would also be an ineffective way to maintain our labor force and budget. Our site is too big. Therefore, it is more practical and economical to have staff mechanics to keep the whole process going.

Hundreds of members and guests play every week and with the expectation of playing at a world class golf course, sending out equipment and waiting for its return would completely disrupt turf management schedules and translate into poor turf grass management.

If I had to rely on outside mechanics to do our preventative maintenance and repairs, the Club could not maintain its high standard of golf.

This and the other green’s mowers are used daily during the golf season.

What is another benefit for having a mechanic, such as yourself, on staff?

I have the experience with many different brands of machinery. I know when to switch to a different brand or upgrade to a new product. Less experienced mechanics may not have that advantage.

If you know your equipment’s performance, quality of parts, ease of repair and the longevity of service after that repair, you stay ahead of the ongoing maintenance demands.

How many years have you been working at The Country Club?

Twenty-four years.

Do other 27 hole golf clubs have staff mechanics?

Yes, that’s standard.

Thanks for the interview, John!

About the Author

Bruce Wenning has been on the ELA Board of Directors since 2003. He has university degrees in plant pathology and entomology and is the horticulturist at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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