If you wanted to replace an ageing machinery fleet, reduce your spares and repair costs, and fix your course maintenance budget to run over several years with no unexpected extras, how would you go about it?
That's exactly the question that Thetford Golf Club faced last year, and the answer was found by talking to their regular equipment supplier, John Deere dealer Ben Burgess & Co of Norwich. The club decided to invest in a new machinery package worth around £175,000, bought on a John Deere Credit five year finance lease scheme with annual repayments fixed at £31,500 including VAT.
The package included 11 new John Deere machines for use by course manager Paul Gould and his team on the 18 hole, par 72 course covering 260 acres of East Anglia's Breckland forest. These were three 2500B greens and tees triple mowers, two 220C walk-behind greens mowers, a 3225B fairway mower and 2653A utility mower, a 1565 Flex Deck rotary mower, 2030 Pro Gator and TH 6x4 Gator utility vehicles, and a 2520 27hp compact tractor.
The greenkeepers have to work under a number of restrictions, not the least of which is that the whole course is within a woodland site of special scientific interest (SSSI). In addition, like many clubs of its type in today's financial climate, it has had to find ways to cope with an ageing membership and limited funds.
The club had signed a similar deal in 2001, but when that came to an end, the committee had decided to revert to only replacing older machines as and when required. However, the club eventually decided this wasn't necessarily the best way to keep the machinery inventory, and consequently the course itself, up to the required standard.
"Spares and repair costs had been mounting up, and we were starting to lose some of the reliability that you get with new equipment," says Paul Gould (pictured with part of the John Deere fleet). "The new deal allowed 12 machines altogether to be upgraded, which meant we haven't got too many old machines in the back of the shed. We can maintain the reliability of our front-line cutting equipment as well as reduce costs, particularly in the first couple of years with warranties, less downtime and the excellent back-up service we get from the dealer."
Club secretary Diane Hopkins has overseen a recent rise in player numbers since the introduction of a new class of membership aimed at younger people and families, which has attracted 170 new members in two years.
"Like any business, we need bodies through the door, and we need to keep them once we've got them," she says. "The way to do that is to make their golfing experience a good one. The membership at every level has a general expectation of standards to be maintained, both inside and outside the clubhouse - but the course is our biggest asset. That's why the new machinery package deal made sense.
"As well as offsetting the cost of the finance against the rising maintenance costs we were experiencing with the older machines, the way the deal is structured means the security for the loan actually rests in the equipment, not in other club assets, which is another major benefit."