The Royal Automobile Club's golf course manager Lee Strutt is a long-term fan of John Deere tractors, and his latest acquisition has been hard at work in its first year on the Old and Coronation downland courses near Epsom in Surrey.
Members of the Royal Automobile Club greenkeeping team (left to right) Simon Glover, Andy Airlee, Lee Strutt and Gary Stewart with the club's two John Deere 4066R compact tractors and the new 5125R utility tractor
The Club's current fleet includes a 4520 and two 4066R compact models, one equipped with a front linkage to take a snow plough and other mounted attachments, as part of Lee's 'future proofing' approach to tractor purchases. These were more recently joined by one of the first new John Deere 5125R utility tractors sold to a golf club, supplied by Dave Searles of Farol Ltd at Twyford in Berkshire.
"After we bought the 4066Rs we always intended to buy a larger 5R or a 6R Series machine of around 100hp for heavier duty work around the 350 acre site," says Lee. "After a visit to the Mannheim tractor factory, I saw the first 5125R in the UK on demonstration at the company's Langar headquarters and decided this would be the best fit for our needs.
"It's a very adaptable and versatile tractor - we can change from the everyday Galaxy flotation turf tyres to the agricultural tread types that are more suitable for woodland management, construction work or snow clearance for example, and the grip on these tyres is phenomenal."
The 125hp tractor is primarily used on both the golf courses for verti-draining and top dressing with two Charterhouse machines, a 2.1m Verti-Drain 7621 and a 5-tonne capacity Rink DS3800 top dresser, for woodland management with a high capacity TP 230 pto-driven woodchipper and for hauling up to 14-tonne dump trailers.
"The Verti-Drain is a big, heavy contractor's machine and we use it across all 36 holes, so we need a powerful, durable tractor to pull it," Lee adds. "We've also got about 77 acres of woodland, and the woodchipper can cope with branches up to 9in in diameter running off the tractor's 1000rpm pto, so there's plenty of power available for that job too. The only time we make the 5125R grunt a bit is when it's pulling the larger trailers, but in my experience tractors work better when they're working harder."
All the club's green waste - including grass clippings, woodchips, soil and cores, anything green and recyclable - is brought down to the maintenance area once a fortnight, from where it gets taken to a storage site for making around 300 tonnes a year of good quality compost. "It's like black gold, full of nutrients," says Lee. "This costs us around £3000 a year to produce but the material is worth at least twice that amount, so the system provides us with massive savings."
Lee Strutt has been buying John Deere tractors for 20 years - his first was a 5820 utility model bought in 1999 when he was course manager at Richmond Golf Club. As a noteworthy update to this story, Lee's successor at Richmond Les Howkins has changed that very model for a new 90hp 5090R utility tractor, ordered from Farol at the same time as the 5125R.
"The biggest improvements I've seen over the past two decades include cruise control, automatic engine features that allow the tractor to be operated in the mode best suited to the application, the Hitch Assist inching control system and particularly the cab, which has excellent visibility and clear digital displays," says Lee.
"I think if operators enjoy driving the machines they use, they'll do a better job. I'd happily sit in a John Deere tractor all day long, it's so comfortable - the company has done a good job of modernising the workspace for the operator, all the controls fit and come to hand very easily. Power to weight ratio is another very good feature, especially with the 4066R, which gives you the same power output at 66hp as some bigger frame tractors.
"John Deere's latest compact models are pretty much smaller versions of the agricultural machines, so I'd also be keen to see a few more higher spec features such as the headland management system introduced to the smaller turf range. Compacts can be used for just as many different tasks as their larger ag counterparts, and I believe this would help less experienced users achieve more consistent results.
"We generally set a lifetime benchmark of about 3000 hours for the compacts and 6000 hours for the bigger utility tractors - the only thing that changes this policy is if a new model comes out with technology I'd like to have! As a long-term investment, if you take into account John Deere's reputation for durability, reliability and build quality, there's no doubt that with the company's tractors you definitely get what you pay for."