As I walked along the rows of old tractors at the numerous shows I attended late this summer and early autumn, I thought about how much golf turf management has changed from my days as a college student to my retirement years of today. As such, it would be fun to attend an antique turf equipment show. Such an event would really bring our progress into focus, just like the steam shows do for production agriculture. So, here are my opinions – far more subjective than objective. Many will consider my list incomplete, and they would be right. So in no particular order…


I come from the era of the night waterman. It was difficult finding a person to do the task in the summer, and it was even worse finding a capable person for the spring and fall. It was lonely work, made less so when we mounted a tractor radio on a Cushman truckster to keep the waterman company. It was hard work, too, especially if one had to roll up a mile or so of 1-inch hose for roller base sprinklers. As a college student, I worked on the golf course that installed the first automatic system in the state. That course went from unirrigated fairways to a new deep well, asbestos-cement pipe and electro-mechanical controllers. It was a major move, but when viewed from the systems of today, it was pretty unsophisticated. Computerized central controllers and satellites, along with variable frequency pumps, are marvels few can appreciate. These big tools are even more useful when tools like moisture meters are employed. Progress has been critical because water is the most important input in golf turf management (again, my opinion).


I love tractors. It is why it is hard for me to see them for the dinosaurs they have become. We had three Fords, all with the same transmission. Two were diesel, one was gas. I bought a Ford 2110 new in 1974, and in all of its years of service it never was parked outside. We never had the valves ground and it was reliable beyond what one would hope for. My successor sold it during my first year of retirement; they never used it and it took up too much storage room. It is hard to argue that. When you mow roughs with Worthington 5-gang Airfield Blitzers and fairways with two sets of 7-gang Jacobsen pull frames, you need three tractors. The first move to change was the availability of F-10s and Parkmasters – no tractor required. Then, along came lightweight mowing. At one point we parked the tractors and mowed fairways with seven Greenskings. Now it’s the bigger and better and still lightweight fiveplexes. Tractors just aren’t used much anymore.


I recall listening to Dr. John Madison speaking at the GCSAA conferences and even once at our Wisconsin Golf Turf Symposium, telling us about the use of straight sand for topdressing golf turf, especially putting greens. His radical ideas weren’t so radical when history tells us about Old Tom Morris instructing his right handyman, David Honeyman, Sr., “More sand Honeyman.” Madison’s books and lectures led to important improvements in golf turf. And with this change in turf culture, topdressing equipment has evolved and improved with the practice.


From open camshaft machines like the early Ryan Greensaires and the tow behind large area Ryan Renovaires, progress has been great. Early in my career we were so desperate to get a good aerification on fairways that we attacked them with four Greensaires IIs fitted with the largest hollow tines we could find. Progress was slow – one or two fairways per day – but we brought up a lot of soil and prepared a good seedbed for the bentgrass seed we spread every year. The leveling effect of dragging the cores was useful as we lowered the height of cut on those fairways. It was such a low-tech process that all we had to thoroughly pulverize the cores was a walk behind Ryan Mataway. As time went on, I believe we ended up with four GA-60s and even bought a Floyd-McKay deep drill aerifier for greens and tees.


We went from a small, unheated metal building with an outhouse to a new carefully designed large maintenance facility. It was more than dramatic, and I appreciated this improvement every time I walked into it. Many of the courses in our state have gone from old dairy barns and garages to something like ours. Wow! And inside these building significant changes are also visible, especially hoists and lifts, revolutionary sharpening equipment and air tools. Many golf courses now employ a mechanic or an equipment manager.


A colleague of mine managed a course on a huge piece of property, and a three-hole run was laid on 40 acres. Many times he complained of his difficulty in keeping track of employees and communicating with them. That all changed with portable and affordable radios. They solved a big management problem for us, and it’s only gotten better with the flood of technology. These days, if an operator has an equipment problem, he merely calls the shop for help on his cell phone. Even a low-tech guy like me is impressed.


I attended the first Jacobsen College Student Program in the summer of 1968 and had a chance to see one of the three first triplex greensmower prototypes. It was a machine with wide, small-diameter tires and the appearance of a praying mantis. We thought, “goodbye walking greensmowers!” Labor savings were easy to calculate and it seemed to be the wave of the future. Well, the future arrived and the next step was back to the future. Walkers, dozens of versions of them, returned along with many rolling equipment choices. Add in aerification options and the result has been wonderful improvements in putting surfaces.

A lot of things haven’t changed, though. The rules of golf have been pretty stable. Cup cutting equipment is about the same as it was when I started. The work itself is still challenging, interesting and even fun. Oh, and despite all the improvements, about the same percentage of players still grumble about green speed.