Royal Aberdeen Golf Course Manager reviews GPS PrecisionSprayer

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Royal Aberdeen Golf Course Manager reviews GPS PrecisionSprayer

Royal Aberdeen Golf Club was the first UK golf course to buy a commercial version of John Deere’s new 757-litre capacity GPS PrecisionSprayer, based exclusively on the ProGator heavy-duty utility vehicle chassis, back in May 2019. Course manager Robert Patterson believes this advanced technology combination is definitely worth the investment.

“We were updating the whole machinery fleet in line with the club’s normal five-year replacement programme,” he says. “The sprayer was part of a John Deere Financial package deal with our local dealer Double A, and was the biggest change for us in terms of new developments.

“Our very first ProGator came with a top dresser attachment, and we then progressed to the HD200 amenity turf sprayer in 2014. This time around I didn’t want a simple like for like replacement – I was keen to get the next stage of technology with GPS, mapping and automatic steering all on one machine.

“I first saw an early prototype on a John Deere Feedback trip to the US about five years ago, and it made a definite impression on me. A couple of years later Gleneagles trialled the machine for a few months, so I went to spend a day with their operator and tried it out. That gave me a really good insight into the machine and I decided we really had to have one at Royal Aberdeen as soon as it became commercially available.

“I had also tried the other competitive machines on the market, but I found they were like night and day compared to the Deere system, particularly in terms of accuracy and consistency with the RTK satellite signal. This has proved to be very reliable and repeatable, with no real stoppages or cut-outs in practice.

“Once we had all the areas on the fairways, greens and tees mapped out across both our courses, which we did using the sprayer itself, they’re now fixed in the spray controller’s memory. RTK picks up the signal from around 16 satellites, which makes it far more accurate than the foam markers we used before on the HD200. Those were accurate up to a point but it gets pretty windy here, so the blobs weren’t always that reliable.

“The new sprayer picks up exactly where you are anywhere on each course, so you can start work straight away with no time wasted in setting up. All the programmes and products we use are stored in the controller and recorded when you’re finished, so the operator just chooses the application required from the menu and away you go, it’s really that easy and straightforward.

“We do a lot of spraying, as we use a drip feed approach to give the turf exactly what it needs when it needs it. This means we’re out spraying nearly every day through the summer months, covering about 25ha across the two courses, so we try to stagger the jobs on a two-week cycle to avoid doing both at the same time. We use standard spray products but do all our own mixing, buying the basic ingredients and making up the sprays to suit the turf and conditions. 

“With the GPS system, individual nozzle control is a great advantage. You can spray contours much more accurately – as soon as the spray boom moves over the mapped line, it switches itself off and then back on again when necessary, so there are big savings there, no question. On the rare occasions we use soluble iron, for example, you can immediately see that the finished spray pattern is much more even and within all the boundaries you’ve set.

“Because of the weather we try to get out quite early before the wind comes up, while it’s calm. I’ve often started in the dark and it’s amazing, as long as you can see the display screen and the bunker edges the whole machine pretty much drives itself, which is another bonus.

“With AutoTrac the operator doesn’t have to worry about concentrating on steering the sprayer and you can keep a better eye on the spray boom, so it doesn’t hit banks for example. That makes a big difference to operator comfort and productivity.

“The system is also great for record-keeping, reporting and complying with environmental regulations. With the app available for mobile phones and tablets, plus the web-based John Deere Operations Centre on the office PC, it’s really easy to find exactly the information you want whenever you need it. I can see how much product is being applied, where and when, it’s so much quicker and easier than before with paper-based systems. It’s live too, so once a job’s been completed all the details are right there in the system straight away.

“Now we have two years’ worth of data saved, we’ve noticed for example that we use up to half a tank less per application than we used to, especially on the fairways. It now takes around 1700 litres to do these on the main course rather than up to 2000 litres, because you’re only spraying what you need to with no overlapping.

“Three operators are trained to use the sprayer, including myself, plus one trainee greenkeeper, and that’s enough. It’s important that the job is done properly, but all the lads using the sprayer are dead keen and picked it up very quickly. They’re learning about nutrition as well, so it’s a really useful skill to develop in their careers.

“I remember when we had a stand-alone sprayer for the first time, with the HD200 replacing a tractor-mounted machine, and I thought that was the best thing ever. This new technology is even better – it’s definitely a big move forward from what we’ve ever had before.”

Watch Course Manager Robert Patterson's full review video here.

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