On Monday, there will be freshly mowed rough on the Members Course at St. James Plantation.
That may not seem like huge news, but here's the rub: The mowing will have been done by a robotic mower.
Cue the dramatic music! Another robotic mower? Will we need Arnold as the T-100 once again, to battle these robotic monstrosities?
Wait, wait, wait... we've got a CGCS in the field who's been using it. And it sounds pretty good, actually.
Conrad Broussard, CGCS, director of agronomy at St. James, was approached by one of his members about using a robotic mower on the course. Tom Moore was the member, he's the president of Softee Manufacturing and lives right off No. 12 at the Members Course. Broussard didn't know exactly what this robotic mower was all about, but Moore offered to set it up in the rough that adjoins his backyard, and he'd even use his own electricity to power the thing -- all he needed was to know how tall Broussard wanted the rough. Broussard told him he liked the rough at 1.5 inches. And now...
"I was a lot more impressed than I thought I'd be," Broussard told me. "All four of my superintendents here are also impressed, and it's not easy to impress all of us." (Pictured, Dustin Strickland, superintendent of the Members Club at St. James Plantation, checks out the Bigmow in action.)
The robotic mower -- called the Bigmow -- can mow up to 5 acres in a day. Moore has it set up so it only mows when golfers are off the course, so from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., this thing is out there chopping grass. It's electric, so it mows until the battery gets low, then the Bigmow returns to the recharge station and gets a recharge.
One of Broussard's favorite things about it is the weight of the unit. At 105 pounds, the Bigmow doesn't compact the grass, and there's no scalping. Also, because the grass is getting cut every day, there's less of the blade getting cut each day, so there are no brown stems from a deeper cut. Plus, since his crew doesn't mow rough over the weekends, having fresh cut rough on a Monday morning was exciting to him.
I got Tom Moore on the phone, and he was happy to report that he's getting ready to book his first Golf Industry Show, so he'll see everyone in Orlando Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Also, the Bigmow has caught the attention of one of the big three, so he'll be showing this thing to some guys in red soon.
"With the fuel costs the way they are today, there's no way this unit isn't going to go," Moore said. "It's just too cheap." Moore says that based on his kilowatt meter, it was costing him 20 cents a day to mow the 1.5 acres of rough behind his house.
The Bigmow, like my band, is huge in Europe. You can find it primarily on sports fields and on driving ranges. The Bigmow is manufactured by a company in Belgium, and Moore is ready to get this product introduced to the American market. He's going to take the St. James unit to a military complex next, and then it heads to another golf course, this one in Louisville, Ky.
"After we had it at St. James for 6, maybe 8 weeks, Conrad told me that this thing pays for itself in two years," Moore said. "When you factor in fuel costs, equipment costs, labor costs... Conrad has done his number crunching. It's not going to be different anywhere else."
Moore knows that there are a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to robotics. He plans on changing their minds.
"We're a little ahead of our time -- not a lot, a little," he said. "People don't think about robotics when they think about mowing. They think about improving their mowing time, and they think zero turn... they don't think that there's something that cuts 24/7 and they don't even have to go out there."
I asked Conrad if he'd be buying the Bigmow, and he said he will probably be getting out the checkbook when there are two improvements made. The Bigmow mows based on an underground wire -- think of an invisible fence for a dog. He'd like to see the Bigmow mow based on GPS data. Also, he'd like to see the docking station switched over to solar power.
Moore believes he'll have more success with the Ball Picker at a place like St. James. The Ball Picker is a Bigmow for the driving range -- it mows while picking up 300 golf balls per trip. The layout of the Members Course is one where you don't see another golf hole too often. Moore thinks the Bigmow would be better suited for a course where holes are laid out next to each other, giving the Bigmow a bigger swath of grass to munch on.
"We are in the process right now of trying to pick our market, see where there might be interest," Moore said. "We're ready to improve the product even further, and put them in place."
For more on the Bigmow and the Ballpicker, visit http://www.softeeautomation.com/index.htm .