Founded in 1889, Royal County Down is one of the oldest golf clubs in Ireland and features two 18-hole links, the Championship Course and the Annesley Links. Located in the beautiful surroundings of the Murlough Nature Reserve in Northern Ireland and set against the magnificent backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne, the links stretch along the shores of Newcastle's Dundrum Bay and provide a different view from virtually every hole.
(Standing left to right) John Deere turf strategic account manager Richard Charleton, Royal County Down links manager Eamonn Crawford and Johnston Gilpin dealer sales manager Ricky Neill with (seated on mowers, left to right) greenkeepers Jon Crawford and Mark Kennedy, first assistant Gary Crawford and mechanic Sam Scott.
Eamonn Crawford has been links manager at Royal County Down for 10 years but has worked here for 45, maintaining not just his beloved links to the highest standards but also a consistent approach to the purchase of new course equipment.
"Every golf course is different, but I like to have a mixture of machinery and if it's good enough I'll use it," he says. "My approach is very much horses for courses, and I aim to buy the right make for the jobs that need doing, to get them done properly."
As a result, one of the club's most recent investments has been in a fleet of four new John Deere 7500A E-Cut hybrid electric fairway mowers, delivered by local dealer Ricky Neill of Johnston Gilpin & Co at Lisburn. These have joined seven of the company's TH 6x4 Gator utility vehicles as well as two vintage 1200A bunker rakes, which are approaching 15 years old and still doing a good job.
"I've dealt with the dealership for nearly 20 years," says Eamonn. "Service and back-up are very important to us, and Johnston Gilpin have always proved their worth on that score, particularly with loan equipment. Generally, we need demo machines for more than just one or two days, preferably three or four weeks so we can test them properly in all conditions, and that's what happened last year with the 7500AE mower.
"We get a lot of rain here and cutting in the wet is just the worst job. Fairway mowers in particular can leave a lot of mess, but the collection on these new machines is very good, the grass gets thrown right to the back of the boxes. We box off all the cuttings on the Annesley Links, which we've never done before, and people have been commenting how good the fairways are playing there now."
Three of the new John Deere 7500A E-Cut hybrid electric fairway mowers working at The Royal County Down Golf Club, with the Mountains of Mourne in the background.
Six of Royal County Down's 17 full-time greenkeeping staff are dedicated 7500AE operators. All four mowers are set to cut the fairways at 9mm on both 18-hole courses every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, plus all the pathways. Nets have been added to the mowers' roll-bars for protection, as there are a lot of blind tee shots around the courses.
"One of our greenkeepers, Mark Kennedy, is very mechanically minded and has done a lot of product training with Johnston Gilpin learning about the machines and how to set them up, so he looks after them all," says Eamonn. "All the operators know their machines well too and are very good at their job.
"They've got to be comfortable using the mowers, given how much time they spend in the seat all day, and they always report back, good or bad! The 7500AEs hold their cut very well, especially down to the bottom of the contours and hollows. Golfers like a tight lie, and the new mowers give us the consistent quality of cut that our members and visitors appreciate.
"The E-Cut hybrid electric system also saves fuel and produces very low emissions, so it all adds up so far. We're very pleased with these new John Deere fairway mowers, and I'm very confident that they will be with us for a long time, particularly with Mark looking after them so well."