“Turf conditions at our facility are tournament quality every single day.”

Posted on August 14, 2013 at 9:00 AM

David Blowers is the Equipment Manager at East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta. He is a straight talker with a strong view on how to achieve tournament conditions every single day. He has worked in the industry since his graduation in 1982.

“During my distributor employment I was responsible for all customer training, grinder training, grinder sales presentations and customer cut quality resolutions.” It is clear that David knows what he’s talking about and he presents a well-argued case, loaded with good reasoning and practical advice.

“All reel cutting unit manufacturers I have worked with design, manufacture and deliver their products with edges sharpened by highly accurate machine tools.

These units cut the best they ever will when they are new, with the precision and perfection you would expect. From day one, any and all use begins to degrade this perfection. Our job and responsibility is to maintain the cut quality throughout the life span of the unit and its drive systems.

The more diligent we are to this responsibility the greater the rewards:

Labor savings - maintenance is physically easier and less labor intensive than repair.

Longer life expectancy for cutting edges and components. Extended life expectancy for drive systems and components. Sharp requires less horsepower thus less wear and tear on all ancillary systems.

Fuel consumption is lower.

Healthier turf. Grass is living tissue so clean surgical cuts heal quicker, are more resistant to disease and transpire less moisture throughout the day.

After-cut appearance is also improved on healthy turf due to these same factors as the turf recovers faster and more evenly, grows out evenly and maintains its color.

It stands to reason we always want to maintain and return our cut quality to perfection. If the manufacturers spin grind reels into perfect cylinders, true-up bedknives to within a few hundred thousandths of an inch and provide relief at the bedknife from the cut point, why would we want to compromise?

Our facility maintains all reel cutting units to “zero contact”. No reel to bedknife contact or interference is tolerated and a maximum clearance of two thousandths of an inch (.002") is our limit. Adjustments are made with diligence every time a mower has returned from the golf course, prior to the next mowing operation. This continuous maintenance permits us to review damage and re-adjust with maintenance.

All cutting units will cut cleanly one single sheet of two and one half thousandths of an inch (.0025") paper and if they don’t, they are re -sharpened. Re-sharpening time and material removal to recover a cutting edge is minimal at this time.

The debate over backlapping, spin grinding, relief grinding etc. is always a difficult conversation. Simply put we must have sharp edges to “cut”. Period.

The debate is really about how we achieve these results. We believe and have proved our method works. We have enough machinery to allow maintenance access without hindering mowing schedules. Technicians are trained and efficient at performing the required responsibilities. We prioritize our maintenance tasks to prevent sending a unit out without having maintenance performed or hindering the mowing schedule. We utilize Express Dual and Anglemaster sharpening equipment, which is the most productive and accurate reel sharpening equipment in the marketplace (my humble opinion). We maintain our cutting units to OEM perfection at all times, whether it is a normal day to day or immediately following topdressing and aerification and our cutting units perform perfectly every day.

Will this process or method work for everyone?

Many facilities are forced to compromise, either too little machinery, too few available technician hours, slow inadequate tools or facilities etc. Compromises do have to be made.

All facilities and operations have to balance their available resources to provide the best possible returns they can afford. Compromising here means accepting some level of imperfection to cut quality. Effects on turf quality, machine life expectancy and repair cost will be adverse.

Unfortunately money drives many decisions, budgets do not permit enough in the “here and now” and selling long-term savings are difficult. We fall into compromises and begin to believe they are adequate. There is no magic solution; no miracle time-saver or self-sharpening reel, there is only diligence. Do the best job you can with what you have available. Understand what you are trying to achieve and make a plan to provide the best attainable results for your facility.

Backlapping in my belief is a compromise. We all agree sharp edges are required to cut properly. Backlapping can aid in maintaining sharp leading edges however, the compromises are:

First, we have no control over where the backlapping paste goes, metal is inconsistent and the softer areas will wear away more quickly, the cutting edge can become wavy and inconsistent, barrel shaped or cone shaped reels commonly occur through prolonged use and without proper procedures being followed. I believe most who employ backlapping perform it improperly causing more problems than they resolve.

Second, as backlapping is performed the relief angle engineered and ground into the bedknife is worn away, matching the reel circumference. The cutting unit ceases to cut cleanly with zero contact and so contact cutting begins. The contact area is significantly increased over the entire front to back dimension of the reel and bedknife, the reel and bedknife begin to act as a brake.

Third, if one is unable to maintain an edge and backlapping is employed to recover, it will be a long day. Effect from backlapping is slow if you require significant metal removal.

Many in our industry would argue that backlapping is faster and easier, regrinding removes too much material and the backlapped reel unit is superior. If backlapping were better, why do the manufacturers not deliver their units backlapped? If a reel and bedknife is rounded and dull, does backlapping miraculously require less metal removal to restore an edge than grinding? In the argument of backlapping as a time saver, it is my opinion our method provides the best possible cut quality, with no compromises. If I conceded that backlapping saved labor, which I do not, our process conserves far more capital than backlapping claims to save by reducing repairs, maintenance, replacement parts, fuel and turf amendment costs due to increased health and disease resistance.

At the end of the day, Turf Conditions at our facility are Tournament Quality every day.”