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Golf course superintendents rely on a fully functional fleet of equipment to work their magic. A typical course can have more than $500,000 invested in mowers, tractors, sprayers, utility carts and many other specialized machines. Some pieces of equipment cost more than $100,000 on their own! Equipment managers do their best to keep these fleets sharp and in good repair, but even the best-maintained pieces of equipment have a lifespan. So, how do superintendents know when it’s time to replace a piece of equipment?

With a car, we would generally look at the mileage to estimate when a replacement was warranted. However, golf equipment does not typically come with an odometer because miles traveled isn’t the best measure of equipment use. Engine hour meters are actually a better way to track the lifespan of course maintenance equipment. Here’s a scenario that explains why:

You have a choice between two trucks that are exactly the same model and color. One has 100,000 “highway” miles. The other has 100,000 “city” miles. You would likely prefer the highway-miles truck because the assumption is that it took less engine time to accumulate those miles. Whereas the city-miles truck could have four to five times the number of engine hours to rack up the same 100,000 miles. That’s a big difference in overall wear and tear, which is why engine hours matter.

Unfortunately, most golfers, course owners, committee members and general managers aren’t used to thinking about equipment life in terms of engine hours, so it can be tough for superintendents to explain when a piece of equipment has reached the end of its useful life. Unless you have an odometer and an hour meter on a greens mower, there is currently no easy way to translate engine hours into miles driven. More importantly, even if your greens mower had both, the miles on equipment don’t translate well into the automotive world that most people understand. So, let’s wade through some of the variables that need to be considered and see if we can make a reasonable translation of engine hours into miles.

Revolutions per minute (rpm) is a measurement of engine speed. 3,000 rpm is a normal operating speed for golf equipment. Most modern, non-commercial vehicles are geared to maximize fuel economy. This means that you will rarely find yourself driving a car or truck in the 3,000 rpm range. If you were, you’d be traveling much faster than most speed limits – probably in the 80-90 mph range. However, this is where a good comparison between engine hours and miles can begin.
RPM Calculator: 1 engine hour at 3,000 rpm = 85 miles.

Most golf courses are not flat and they’re certainly not smooth like pavement or concrete. Golf courses have hills, valleys, curbs, bridges, tree roots, wet spots and everything in between. Those 85 miles will feel like much more to the engine throughout its operating time. So, adding 10% to our 85 miles is warranted. More should be added if the golf course is exceptionally hilly.
Terrain Multiplier: Normal golf course = 10% more miles. Extremely hilly golf course = 20% more miles.

Regular maintenance is assumed in these calculations. However, there may be times when equipment maintenance can’t keep up with use. In these instances, the extra burden on the engine can cause quicker deterioration.
Maintenance Multiplier: Irregular maintenance = 10%-20% more miles.

The following chart shows how golf course equipment engine hours can be translated into an estimated mileage for a personal vehicle, assuming routine maintenance is being performed.

This is a simplified estimation of engine life. There are many other factors that influence the useful life of course maintenance equipment. However, this formula can be used as a baseline for making equipment replacement discussions much easier to understand.