The Masters: Mowing the Fairways

Posted on April 9, 2012 | in 2012 Masters, Defects, Golf, Lean Tools, Maintenance, New Ideas, Sports, Standardized Work, Teamwork, Time Savings | by

When the patrons begin leaving Augusta National Golf Club during the week of the Masters and when the final groups of golfers finish up their rounds or work at the practice range, the grounds crews get to work themselves.

It’s quite a spectacle to watch a big group of fairway lawnmowers roll down the cart paths in single file and get into formation at one end of a fairway. By aligning in an organized manner the mowing of the grounds can be completed faster and before dew begins settling on the grass (which makes mowing much more tedious).

The furthest left mower will line up with the edge of the fairway and begin cutting, and the next mower will align itself with the left mower’s cut line and follow behind and to the right so there is little overlap yet no piece of fairway goes uncut between the mower decks. One by one, mowers to the right of the front mower will start out, aligning with the mower in front of it. As a result, you see around 12 mowers cutting in unison and a very large plot of land is trimmed very quickly and precisely in a very short amount of time.

Notice the two-man golf cart out in front of the mower line and the two-man golf cart directly behind. The cart in front takes down the patron ropes along the paths so that the mowers can quickly travel from one fairway to the next without having to stop and take down barriers themselves.

The cart operators behind the mowers serve two purposes. One, they put the patron ropes back up after the mowers have left a fairway. Second, they watch the mowers’ cut lines and monitor the grass height after the cuts are made so they can determine which mowers need blades sharpened – they are doing quality checks and looking for lack of uniformity in the grass height in the fairway and sending those mowers in for servicing as quickly as they can finish.

Referring to the first picture, you might see something round and yellow-ish hanging from the mowers’ canopies. What is that?

It’s a tennis ball on a rope! So why is it there?

The purpose of the tennis ball is a simple means of communication with other mowers when there’s a problem. The mowers use a lot of hydraulic lines internally to operate, and hydraulic fluids and oils will kill grass if spilled. As the mowers are lined up and cutting, the drivers are monitoring the grass of the mowers beside it and checking for any leaks. If a driver sees a mower is dripping fluid they will throw the tennis ball at the operator of the leaky mower and get him to stop immediately. Drivers are trained to stop if they see a tennis ball come flying at or near them (in addition to patrons walking near or golf balls hit close). This is a really simple concept that gets the communication across quickly.

Even exclusive venues and organizations like the Augusta National Golf Club are no strangers to quick, effective, and inexpensive problem solving techniques like this.

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2 Responses to “The Masters: Mowing the Fairways”

  1. Robert Baird says:

    The process looks very labor and machine intensive. Can they not have a supplier design a single wide based mower a smaller tractor could pull?

    • Chad Walters says:

      Here are some reasons I don’t think they aim to reduce the number of tractors.

      First, it’s not about the ability to “afford” process waste. By reducing the number of mowers and the number of blades cutting the grass in the mower lines, precision can be lost and the attention to detail is reduced. With ANGC, they strive for perfection and base their reputation on it.

      Next, the more mowers out there the more eyeballs looking for imperfections and problems (see the tennis ball piece).

      Next, by reducing the quantity of critical pieces of equipment, if one of the blades on a single mower deck for the fairways goes down, the whole deck has to be taken back to the shop and essentially the whole line is down. With more pieces of smaller equipment, if one tractor goes down one can easily hop into its place.

      Next, this entire process happens very quickly and during Masters week it happens every day.

      By having a single mower deck go over much larger pieces of the fairway, precision around the short rough is lost AND a small tractor might not have enough torque or horsepower to run such a large deck. This is in contrast to a Department of Transportation mower deck, where precision in trimming weeds next to the highways is not mandatory.

      Just my two cents. ANGC has more mowers than any golf course I’ve ever seen, but I think that it’s directly proportional to the attention, precision, and beauty that makes ANGC special. No detail is left unchecked.

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