Show me someone considered great at their craft, and I’ll bet they take excellent care of the tools they use. This is very logical — they depend on these tools to be effective in their work, so why would they neglect them? With so many variables sports turf managers chase to control, the successful ones know that dependable equipment/tools are things they can control. In today’s ever-tightening maintenance windows, equipment downtime is just too costly.

In SFM’s 2017 State of the Industry Survey, 16 percent of respondents answered “forced to use older equipment” to the question “What’s the biggest challenge you face in managing your field(s)?” When this is the case, proper equipment care becomes even more crucial. Unlike so many golf course superintendents, very few sports turf managers have a trained equipment mechanic on staff. Few of us have professional training as a mechanic, but we still need to be mechanically sound. Nothing drags down a field maintenance program like equipment failure.

Much like managing a playing surface, your highest priority in managing a fleet of equipment and tools is safety. That includes when any work is being done on the equipment with a proper lockout and tag-out program that adheres to Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. If you don’t know what lockout and tag-out programs are, find out. YouTube has many good videos to introduce the topic. Your facility’s human resources department is a good place to start to get this training before you or your staff begins working on equipment. Some colleges and universities that offer studies in occupational safety will even send out qualified trainers in lockout and tag-out programs to your facility.

Another caution is to know how any work you do on a piece of equipment may or may not impact the manufacturer’s warranty. So, unless you’re equipped and trained, it’s best to contract major repairs and maintenance to a qualified mechanic at your local dealer or distributor.

With that being said, there’s much that can be done in-house. Equipment downtime is stressful on the turf team. Field treatments must be orchestrated, and nothing ruins a conductor’s day like equipment failure. Financially, you can plan for good equipment maintenance, but keep in mind that repairs can kill a budget in a hurry.

  • First off, keep your equipment clean. This is the simplest, yet too-often neglected, part of field management. Clean machines after each use and deep clean regularly. This is a good way to find problems early, because regular cleaning is also regular inspection.
  • Everything starts with equipment owner/operator manuals. These important documents must be current and easy to locate and access. Keep a small, but reliable, inventory of less expensive parts that your records indicate wear out or break most often. If a part is only a few dollars, it’s worth it to buy two or three.
  • The first time doing a minor repair or maintenance procedure always takes the longest. It takes practice to be mechanically sound and efficient in your work. Get to know your local dealer or distributor mechanics; they’ll often save the day for you. Call them when you need advice. Send them an image or quick video from your phone, describing the issue you’re having. I’ve also found it very useful to take a picture or video of the fully assembled area of your work, before you start, so you can put things back together.
  • Out in the field, keep your eyes, ears and nose open for trouble as you run your equipment. There’s usually some sign when things are off, as the piece of equipment often gives early clues to trouble. Maybe it’s the faintest chirp of a bearing drying up, or the early clicking sounds of a mower reel falling out of adjustment. This is the time to solve the issue, not after equipment failure.

If you want your field management operations to run like a finely tuned machine, keep your equipment finely tuned. Learn to enjoy this part of the job. Nothing sparks pride and excellence in a turf team better than wiping the grime off your hands and beholding the clean, ready-to-go machine you’ve just worked on.

Become a mechanical artist.