Whether it’s time to purchase a new piece of equipment or you’re looking for ways to maintain the course more efficiently, a question that often comes up for golf course superintendents is, “Walking greens mower vs riding greens mower: which is best for me?”
At face value, it seems like a simple enough question to answer. Riding greens mowers are faster, take less effort to operate, and can cover more distance in a day.
It’s not that simple, however. There are many factors to consider, as walking mowers and riding mowers are different in many ways. They also produce different results, which can be make-or-break for some superintendents.
Here’s a closer look at the key differences between walking and riding mowers.
Purchase and Maintenance Costs
One mistake people make is solely considering the initial cost of a mower. However, the lifetime cost of maintaining a machine can inform your decision. Especially when it comes to how you choose to use.
Costs of Walking Greens Mowers
The average cost of a good pre-owned walking greens mower is around $4,000. That’s how much you’d expect to pay for a used Toro GR 1600, for example.
There are some maintenance costs to factor in. The average annual cost for maintaining a mid-range walking greens mower is around $150 per year.
Costs of Riding Greens Mowers
Riding greens mowers come in various sizes, and their prices vary a great deal too. To give you an idea, for what we would call a “middle of the road” mower, like a used Toro Tri-plex, you can expect to pay around $15,500 for a used one.
Then there are the maintenance costs. The average cost of maintaining a riding mower is around $300 per year.
It isn’t easy to work out which option is strictly the least expensive. If you have the manpower to use several walking mowers, it may be the most cost-effective option.
However, some courses find investing in a riding mower works out less expensive in the long term to the time saved.
Speed and Man Power
Are some of your main concerns speed and person power? See the difference between riding and walking greens mowers and what that can mean for your workforce.
Man Power and Speed of Using Walking Greens Mowers
Walking greens mowers take considerably longer to cover a large area than riding mowers. Some 18 hole courses will have as many as 6 employees using walking mowers to cover 120,000 square feet in a few of hours.
There is also the physical output to consider. Obviously, it takes a lot more effort to walk behind a walking mower than it does sitting on a ride-along.
Man Power and Speed of Using Riding Greens Mowers
Riding mowers, for those who have not used one before, operate exactly how they sound. An engine and hydraulics power them, and the user rides along.
They vary in speed, but on average, riding mowers are considerably faster than walking mowers. This comes with a higher price tag, and as I’ll explain next, some people think you can’t achieve as good of a cut.
If speed and keeping employee numbers to a minimum is important to you as a golf course superintendent, you should consider riding mowers.
Quality of Cut and Performance
All turf managers should consider the quality of cut. As it is said in the golf course industry, the putting greens are what drive new and existing business. The quality of cut and performance of the putting greens mower, directly effect the putting green surface.
Quality of Walking Greens Mowers
This is where it really gets complicated – and personal. Some superintendents swear by walking mowers as the most precise and versatile option to achieve their ideal cuts. Others beg to differ.
The issue is that the quality of the cut is largely related to the quality of the mower. With prices ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, you often get what you pay for.
Some large golf courses only use walking mowers, even though they could afford riding mowers if needed. This is because they can achieve the best cut with walking mowers, and that’s the most important factor at the end of the day.
Quality of Riding Greens Mowers
You can achieve a very desirable and close cut with riding mowers. However, it’s widely thought that you can’t achieve sharp contours and perfect uniform striping without investing in a high-end riding mower.
Without trying both and knowing which models you’re interested in, it’s hard to tell you which type of mower will give you the best results.
That said, with all things equal, we think we’d have to give a quality walking mower the edge. This is because overall, you do have a little more control over the precise cutting height on a walker.
Walking Greens Mower vs Riding Greens Mower: Which Is Best for You?
After reading the above, you may be more confused than before – and we can’t blame you. It’s not an easy question to answer on your behalf, which largely depends on the mower.
As a general rule of thumb, we would suggest that unless you absolutely have to use riding mowers due to time constraints, at least start with walking mowers.
Walking mowers are better on clean-up passes and for dealing with intercut cuts or repairing turf. You will almost certainly need one as part of your collection of equipment anyway.
There are some added benefits, too; it’s easier to train people to use walking mowers, there is no chance of oil leaks spoiling your turf, and should they malfunction on a green, they’re easier to move.
With all of that in mind, lots of golf course superintendents are perfectly happy with their greens’ look and feel when using riding mowers.
They’re able to achieve the perfect look and feel at a lower cost, with fewer man-hours, and in a quicker time. The added convenience of a riding mowers speed can make maintaining greens a faster and easier experience during growing seasons than ever.
Maybe it really does come down to personal preference. As well as factors such as budget and the condition and size of your greens.
If you’re on the fence, the best thing we can suggest is that you rent one of each type to test them for yourself.
We covered some of the benefits of renting large scale cultivation equipment in this post if you’re interested in learning more about it.