There are more Gators than greens staff at Loch Lomond and Dundonald, but every one has a vital role to play in the general maintenance of these two prestigious golf courses. Loch Lomond was one of the earliest customers for John Deere's Gator 6x4 petrol utility vehicles after their UK launch in 1993, and has steadily increased the size of its fleet since that time.
There are now 25 new HPX 4x4 Gators at Loch Lomond and Dundonald, plus two 6x4 diesel models, 11 electric TE Gators including the specially adapted and liveried members' service department machines, and two Pro Gators equipped with John Deere HD200 low-profile sprayers and top dressers - all supplied by local dealership Nairn Brown (Glasgow) Limited of Busby.
These are extensively used by a total of 38 greens staff across the two courses. The HPX is the main workhorse machine, while the majority of Loch Lomond's service department's TE Gators have been fitted with longer load beds and canopies for carrying member's golf bags to the first tee and back from the 18th green.
There's even a Gator complete with heater which is being converted into a mobile workshop so that it can get right up close to any breakdown, as the course's service van cannot be taken onto the turf.
The last big group purchase was of the new HPX Gators, which was the first time the club had ever gone down the lease hire route. "We generally buy outright, but this time a John Deere Credit three year lease was the better option," says equipment manager Charles Johnson, who organises all the machinery selection, buying and finance for the golf courses.
"We made our own ladder racks to hold a variety of hand tools, but generally the HPX Gators are basic specification machines. Most came with the standard ROPS frame cab without doors, and all are on turf tyres except for the woodlands and estate department's machine, which was fitted with all-purpose lug tyres. We service the Gators every 100 hours, and they are very easy to maintain."
Assistant superintendents Peter Haggarty and Sue Rothwell explain why they run such a large Gator fleet: "These are high use machines, and get seen by everyone out on the course, so presentation is very important and they have to look in fairly good order. We strictly enforce the two-person only rule for health & safety reasons, so this also means we need more units to be available at any one time.
"Because of the number of staff employed across the two courses, we do a lot of pedestrian mowing. With 7.30am tee times in the summer, we usually have 10 people out mowing in the morning, or changing the course set-up. In addition, we Flymo the bunkers continually on a rota system so they never get left, so with the overall size of the site this also means putting more staff out on Gators and doing lots more jobs with them.
"For us, the main selling point on the new HPX models was the cab. In terms of operator comfort it makes a world of difference, you don't have that constant battering from the weather when you're out and about on the course."
The HPX Gators have generally replaced previous 6x4 models, and have proved more capable of getting in and out of the sticky areas around the course, adds Peter Haggarty. "The HPX can be used in any conditions, and is better turning than the 6x4. Although it offers easily switchable four-wheel drive, the only machine on which this option is used regularly is one we use for bracken control.
"We are conducting a trial at the moment to see if we can get the same level of plant kill without using chemical sprays. This involves simply hooking a small roller onto the back of Gator - this is designed to break the stem of the bracken and bleed it dry, which slowly kills off the plant. Four-wheel drive helps to manoeuvre the Gator more easily across these bracken areas."
Loch Lomond's equipment manager Charles Johnson.
Turfing a new section of fairway at the third hole, using HPX Gators. Trees were removed to open up the fairway, mainly to create a wider area for spectators at tournaments such as the Scottish Open Championship, held in July.
Will Bradley and Darran Marshall of the woodlands and estate team (otherwise known as the tree huggers), working at the sixth hole with their own HPX Gator. "We use it all over the course, and it's never let us down."
An HPX Gator equipped with a ball collector is used on the driving range.
Construction work on a new raised tee at the 17th hole, involving both 6x4 and HPX Gators. This flooded in 2007, so the tee height had to be increased.
Members of the service department team with their specially adapted TE Gators, in front of the magnificent 18th century Georgian mansion, Rossdhu House.
Peter Haggarty and an HPX Gator in the Spa's walled garden.