After reading GCI’s October story and listening to the accompanying podcast about Cub Cadet’s RG3 Robot Greens Mower, I wondered if this would be a solution to Crown Golf Course’s growing labor shortage. As equipment manager, I read technical manuals for fun. Each machine has an operator’s manual, a parts manual and a shop manual. These manuals tell me most everything there is to know about the operation, maintenance and repair of the machines they accompany. So, for a new piece of machinery, studying these manuals is the best and fastest way to get acquainted, understand how it was built and how it works.

Unfortunately for me, the manuals for the Cub Cadet are only available to someone who has purchased the machine/system. While not common, suppliers sometimes do this, which puzzles me. Anything patentable would have been patented before manufacturing the machine/system. And if it is all protected by patents, why keep me away from the manuals?

Another way to find out what it is like to live and work with a machine is to borrow it from the dealer for a few days. This common practice is known as a “demo” – short for “demonstration.”

Unfortunately, demos of the RG3 are not only unavailable, they are not possible because it takes a team of 10 people three weeks to “install” the machine and required infrastructure, and to start up the system. I have seen this before; an early version of an automatic floor scrubbing machine I worked with had a similar lengthy install process. The floor scrubber people eventually streamlined the install process down to 30 minutes. Perhaps Cub Cadet will follow suit.

The price of an individual RG3 does not reflect the installed cost of the system. For an 18-hole course with a 19th green for putting, the installed cost of the entire system is about $225,000. Once installed, it requires two full-time employees to operate. While this price sounds outrageous, properly applied the system pays for itself in four years, and then continues to save the course money.

© cub cadet

As it turns out, Michigan is outside of their service area and will not be supported until 2017. In a phone conversation, the representative was kind enough to spend time with me and we ran through some of the hypothetical calculations as if I were a customer. He looked over the course using Google Maps images. We plugged some of Crown’s numbers into their return-on-investment calculator spreadsheet which showed the club was not a candidate for installation. It would not make economic sense.

The first strike against us was that we are a six-month course, which would double the time required for savings to offset the cost. The second strike against us was the course, at the moment, is too lean an operation. The fat that installing a system would trim out of an operation is nonexistent. There was also the question about going back to walk-mowed greens after having been mowing them with a triplex. The ideal customer would be walk mowing their greens, rolling them every day and inclined to automate that process.

While I am disappointed the RG3 robot greens mower is not the mower for the Crown Golf Club’s golf course, I did learn a lot about the machine and its operation. It sounds like the RG3 is for about two-thirds of U.S. golf courses, so maybe your course could benefit from the RG3 system.

The other mowers I looked at, a greens mower, fairway mower and rough mower, are stand-alone mowing systems and do not require the installation of any infrastructure. They’re dispatched from the shop storage area, mow and return themselves to their parking spot. Mowing patterns are programmable and selectable so you can put in the seven-day pattern of mowing differently each day. These mowers cost about twice the price of the same mower without the self-driving feature. Just figuring the savings from not having a driver, the guidance system looks like it will pay for itself in about three years.

There is one problem. When I contacted the salesmen for each of these companies to check on price and availability they each said, “what self-driving mower?”

is the Equipment Manager for the Crown Golf Club in Traverse City, Mich., a position he’s held for the past decade. Previously, he spent 8½ years as the equipment manager at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. Prior to that, he worked as a licensed ships engine officer sailing the Great Lakes and the oceans of the world.