Cutting trials carried out at the prestigious Celtic Manor Resort in south Wales by Jim McKenzie, director of golf and course manager, demonstrate how regularly sharpening mower blades and setting with no-contact will give vital benefits to clubs and their players.
“Here at the Celtic Manor the condition of the course has improved and our maintenance costs considerably reduced using Bernhard ‘Express Dual‘ and ‘Anglemaster‘ grinders and a no-contact set up,” says Jim. “I started experimenting on our championship Wentwood Hills course and the difference was amazing.
“Mower set-up is highly critical at top tournaments such as The Wales Open hosted by the Celtic Manor. Top players want consistency of play throughout the day. They don‘t want to find conditions have seriously deteriorated if they are last out in the field.
“If greens are cut first thing in the morning using the contact method this stresses the grass. As a result it grows more quickly during the day to try and recover. Condition of the greens is then significantly worse by the time the later players tee off.”
“No-contact creates a more level playing field,” Jim continues. “Grass grows more slowly because it is healthier and less stressed. I estimate we have saved around 25 per cent of our cutting time.”
“No-contact cutting combined with regular sharpening is the way forward for the industry,” says Stephen Bernhard of grinding specialists Bernhard and Company. “Our concept is to sharpen the mower and set the blades to cut like a scythe, which ensures the grass is cleanly cut like a scalpel.”
Jim McKenzie backs up this method. “On the agronomic side, less damage is caused to the grass, so it requires less water and fertilizer,” he says. “Machinery costs are slashed, as we need less spare parts. Less mechanical stress brings a reduction in fuel, engine wear and overheating hydraulics. This saves money over the old method.”
The alternative idea is for mowers to have a lapped set-up (where cylinder and bottom blade touch one another) making it perform like a pair of scissors. “This is like driving a car with the handbrake on,” says Stephen Bernhard. “Metal rubs on metal so the blades become dull more quickly and lose that critical sharp cut. A contact set up means the blade drags the material across its surface, which makes the grass bleed. More susceptible to disease, the grass requires more water and loses definition as it grows more rapidly in its fight to try and recover.”
“Sharp mower blades are vital,” says Jim, who has a staff of 34 to manage three courses – Wentwood Hills, Roman Road and Coldra Wood – and regularly uses Bernhard’s ‘Rapid Facer‘ to give a really sharp bottom blade, without having to take the blade off the machine, a quick and easy process.
Celtic Manor has more than £12 million earmarked for developments, in preparation for the Ryder Cup in 2010. Jim believes precision cutting on the courses means players, spectators and the media will enjoy the highest standards of golf presentation. “Greenkeepers and groundsmen are experts in their field,” says Stephen, “so it is most important they judge and see the results for themselves. We offer free trials to UK turf professionals, and will help out at tournaments, so they can be equally convinced of the significant benefits and savings to be gained from regular sharpening and no-contact.”
Celtic Manor www.celtic-manor.com