Donald Ross is among the most celebrated and revered golf course designers on the planet, and for good reason. While best known for his work at Pinehurst No. 2, Oak Hills, Seminole and several prominent others, Ross left behind 413 golf courses with his characteristic sloping fairways, contoured greens and punishing approaches when he died in 1948. One of the many remaining gems that constitutes his lasting legacy has managed to survive the test of time and over a century of play from New England’s top golfers just seven miles north of Boston, at Winchester Country Club.
“The course dates back to the original Ross design in 1902,” explains Dennis Houle, Winchester’s golf course superintendent for the past five years. “It’s had some work done over the years, but it is still pretty close to the same hilly, rolling layout that it started with more than one hundred years ago, and our players love it.”
Until 2004, Houle and his maintenance team used an existing fleet of larger fairway units to mow the dips, hills and difficult lines still intact from Ross’ original vision. Houle made the decision to start systematically changing out the fleet of what he calls the “tanks” for smaller, lighter and more maneuverable units that were better suited to handle Winchester’s terrain.
“We liked the setup of the triplex mowers with the 18-inch reels and their ability to follow contours, but we’re a busy course and it would be impossible to mow our fairways on a regular basis with three-reel machines,” Houle said.
Together with management, Houle made the decision to switch out one of his larger mowers each year to the smaller, lighter SLF-1880 from Jacobsen. Four years into the experiment, Houle and his crews couldn’t be more pleased with the quality-of-cut and the precision they are now getting from the fleet of four super-lightweight fairway units.
The smaller unit with the smaller reels really gets in and out of these undulations a lot better than even some of the triplexes we have, and there is no comparison between the cut you get with the SLF-1880 and those larger units,” he said. “The larger reels roll over the top of some of the small depressions – what we call ‘birdbaths’ if you don’t hit them just right – and it was a less consistent cut overall.”
Winchester still keeps a few of the larger units in the garage for some applications like mowing after topdressing and for the first few times out in the spring when acorns and twigs are abundant.
“Once we get into the day-to-day operation, those 1880s are all we run,” Houle said. “We collect clippings all the time, and there is a marked difference in the amount of bentgrass we pick up with these 1880s than what we see with the larger units. In terms of cut, clippings and after-cut-appearance, there really is a visible difference.”
Ross designs are well known for their contours, slopes and domes, making straight-line tracking a necessity for courses like Winchester. Lighter machines like the Jacobsen SLF-1880 are able to track straighter over hills and bumps, simply because they are not prone to slide on a slope where larger mowers might.
After 17 years as a superintendent and an assistant in the golf course industry on three different courses, Houle has had plenty of opportunity to evaluate different types of turf equipment. For his purposes at Winchester Country Club, he’s found the SLF-1880 to be a perfect fit.
“Compared to anything else I’ve used on fairways, I would say the 1880 is probably the best unit I’ve run,” he said. “It gets in and out of the undulations better than some triplexes and in terms of following a contour, nothing else even comes close.”