Stone Mountain

EIGHT TOP U.S. COURSES TRY PROPANE

Collaborating with Audubon International and R&R Products, eight courses with an established commitment to sustainable practices were selected to take part in the PERC Golf Demo Program in 2015. The courses that participated were:

  • Stone Mountain Golf Club, Stone Mountain, Georgia.
  • Fernandina Beach Golf Club, Fernandina Beach, Florida.
  • Marriott Desert Springs Golf Club, Palm Desert, California.
  • The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, St. Petersburg, Florida.
  • Columbus Municipal Golf Courses, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Reston National Golf Course, Reston, Virginia.
  • George W. Dunne National, Oak Forest, Illinois.
  • Eagles Pride Golf Course, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Each course was leased four pieces of equipment from R&R Products — a Reel Max 331LP finish cut reel mower, Reel Max 744LP 5-gang fairway mower, Greens Max 2200LP riding greens mower, and a Sand Max 521LP utility vehicle — all powered by propane. In return, each course recorded detailed information about each machine.

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Golf course maintenance equipment powered by propane instead of traditional fuel like gasoline or diesel, was featured at eight golf courses selected in 2015 to partner with the Propane Education & Research Council’s Golf Demo Program.

During the program trial, superintendents saw a reduction in fuel costs by as much as 50 percent and enjoyed a variety of operational benefits associated with the alternative fuel. The research conducted at the demo sites showed operating with propane led to an overall lower total cost of operation.

SAVING BIG ON FUEL COSTS

According to initial research results, the eight courses were consistent in reporting the propane equipment reduced fuel costs between 35 and 40 percent compared to traditional fuels. One course even saved as much as 50 percent on fuel.

Side-by-side comparisons with gasoline equipment during the demo period showed negligible runtime differences, but the difference in price can be as much as 15 to 25 percent in favor of propane. Gasoline retail costs are typically higher than the cost of propane as an engine fuel because propane pricing can be negotiated with the local propane retailer. The operation costs of using propane end up as the advantage option.

Gasoline retail costs are typically higher than the cost of propane as an engine fuel because propane pricing can be negotiated with the local propane retailer.

The chasm between propane and diesel was more dramatic. Propane costs 35 to 40 percent less than diesel in most markets, which more than makes up for the 12 to 15 percent higher consumption rates the alternative fuel had when compared to diesel. Considering that the courses were comparing consumption rates to Tier 3 Final diesel equipment, and not the far less fuel-efficient Tier 4 compliant models, propane holds even more value.

OPERATING WITH PROPANE FUEL RECEIVES HIGH MARKS

The superintendents and their crews gave high marks to operating with propane, too.

Superintendents were asked to rate all four pieces of equipment they used on a scale from 1 to 10. Of the 32 machines that took part in the demo program, 28 received between an 8 to 10 overall rating. The average score for every machine was 8.9.

When asked to rank the equipment based on maintenance, the ratings were just as stellar. Twenty-seven machines scored 8 to 10, with the fleet average being 9.2.

Anthony Williams, former superintendent of Stone Mountain Golf Club who oversaw the golf demo program, ranked all four machines with a score of 10. His course had fuel savings between 25 and 40 percent, depending on the machine. That amounted to year-over-year savings on fuel of $12,000. If his entire equipment fleet was running on propane — and not just four machines — the savings would have been even higher, Williams said.

PERKS OF PROPANE EXTEND BEYOND FUEL SAVINGS

Jeremy Wishart, deputy director of business development for PERC, helped put the Golf Demo Program in place at the courses. He said the positive response to propane extended beyond the fuel cost reductions it offered superintendents.

“The fuel has scored really well with the superintendents and, possibly just as important, with their operators and service technicians,” Wishart said. “They got to see first-hand that propane has some incredible operational benefits. It can’t spill and damage the course, refueling with propane is clean and easy, and there is no chance of fuel contamination or issues with ethanol to deal with.”

Robert Brown, groundskeeper at Stone Mountain, said propane equipment made daily maintenance easier because there were fewer problems that can arise during operation.

For example, in addition to providing the necessary horsepower to maintain the course, propane can actually protect it, too. Because propane is a closed fuel source, there’s no risk of spillage on the course or around the greens, which can be a damaging and costly mistake seen with diesel equipment.

“Using diesel there’s a chance you could spill it or you can get a leak on the course and damage the green,” Brown said. “But with propane you don’t have that threat.”

Propane also contains no ethanol, which affects gasoline engine performance and can lead to costly downtime or engine repair.

BETTER REFUELING OPTIONS

Another benefit of integrating propane fuel on a golf course is its multiple refueling options. With propane, a superintendent may install on-site refueling infrastructure or enter into a cylinder exchange program.

A cylinder exchange program makes refueling hassle-free and suits superintendents who may not use enough propane fuel to warrant an onsite tank. In a cylinder exchange program, the retailer delivers full propane cylinders to a golf course and switches out empty cylinders for full ones on a regular schedule. With this option, propane retailers will train equipment operators on how to properly handle and store empty and full cylinders so the retailer knows which ones to take.

“The surprise to me in the first month was, ‘Look at the flexibility that propane will allow us,’” Williams said. “Because of the way the cylinders are delivered, the way the cylinders are stored, and the way the cylinders can be changed in and out.”

Installing on-site refueling infrastructure includes one large tank or more and a no-spill dispenser, which employees are trained to use by their propane provider to refill empty cylinders. The superintendent can then refuel propane cylinders as needed, while the propane provider would refill the bulk tank on an as-needed basis.

Another refueling perk with propane is that empty propane cylinders can be swapped out for full cylinders while the equipment is currently deployed on the golf course property. This is possible because propane is a closed fuel source, so it’s easily portable and can’t spill from the cylinder and damage the course — something that can’t be said for gasoline or diesel. This benefit helps increase productivity of the crew operating the equipment.

“When you traditionally fuel equipment you are at the fuel station back at the shop,” Williams said. “We can actually do refueling in the field with propane.”

AFFORDABLE FUEL FOR THE FUTURE

From the smallest municipal course to the highest-end golf club resort, it’s a good bet the superintendent’s budget doesn’t stack up to the amount of work that is required. Superintendents are practical by nature, and they know how to stretch a dollar.

The research received from the superintendents involved in the PERC Golf Demo Program found the advantages of propane over gasoline and diesel included a dramatic reduction in fuel costs and a host of operational benefits that protect a superintendent’s bottom line.

“Those fuel savings were the highlight of a range of benefits that prove propane is the fuel choice that is best for business,” Wishart said. “Propane is cleaner, it makes refueling easier, it doesn’t damage the engine, and it can’t spill on the course. All that put together makes propane the lowest total cost-of-operation of any fuel type.”

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