A lush green and perfectly manicured sports field is a thing of beauty. While athletes make the canvas their own, the work that went into making the field safe and pristine is no small task. It’s a job that requires a lot of time – and a lot of equipment.

A multitude of factors go into equipment procurement: budget, size and type of operations and location to name a few. With so many variables, is it better to own the equipment, or is renting or leasing a better option?


Of the three purchasing options, the market for rentals is quite small.

Jim Hornung Jr., president of Great Lakes Athletic Fields in Buffalo, N.Y., said, because most of the equipment is specialized and rather expensive, renting is usually not an option. Great Lakes, which offers athletic field service, construction and maintenance services to its clients, owns all of its maintenance equipment, which includes tractors, aerifiers, topdressers, seeders and dethatchers.

“The more crossover equipment, like rollers and trenching equipment, is more readily available to rent,” he said, adding that Great Lakes will rent pay loaders or other larger equipment that it needs for a construction project.

Hornung said a lot of the specialized equipment is built for single users: “A lot of these machines are delicate and don’t like the transporting and multiple uses that take place in a contractor environment. They are frequent wear machines that just aren’t built for that rugged rental use.”

Terry Lewis, sales manager for Redexim Turf Products, said there isn’t a lot of money to be made in the rental business.

Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex Director Brian Winka says being able to test equipment under real conditions is key before purchasing specialized turf equipment.

“Because of the specialized nature of the equipment, we don’t keep a lot around to be rented because of the high cost and low demand. If we have a demo piece available, we’ll rent it, but we’re in the business to sell,” he said.


Lewis said leasing makes sense for some companies, while it’s less practical for others. Redexim’s factory direct store offers leasing and financing options, but he said it’s still a relatively young business.

He said the benefits include:

Financial flexibility – Leasing offers a lower upfront cost that may make it a more desirable option. “Years ago you looked long term and bought your equipment. Companies who are looking to keep costs down need that flexibility because they can’t commit long term. They can spread the cost over multiple budgets with the option to purchase at the end of the lease or look at allocating those funds to a different piece.”

Equipment access – Another benefit is the opportunity for companies to continue to use the newest equipment on the market. Lewis said pieces with shorter life cycles and frequent use are better for leasing. “It works for the customer and for the distributor,” who may be able to sell the returned equipment on the used market.

Read the fine print

Regardless of which option is chosen, buyers should read the contract and fully understand their rights and responsibilities.

“Make sure there aren’t cost clauses for used parts, for example. You should have a great working knowledge of how this machine will perform and typical expenses related to the use of the item,” said Jason Sentell, director of sales for STEC Equipment, Inc. “Understand how the rental or leasing company will react to unexpected events like damage, and what type of service you can expect during and after the agreement.”


The benefits, in terms of overall cost, equipment availability and longevity, outweigh the negatives when it comes to equipment procurement for the sports field management industry.

Durability – Hornung said because of the specialized nature and manufacturing quality of the equipment, the life cycle is greater – as long as it’s well maintained. “We have an aerifier that is 20 years old. It’s not a piece of equipment we can use every day, but it has made us a lot of money. The initial investment was worth it.”

Great Lakes Athletic Fields’ Jim Hornung Jr. says the longer life cycle of specialized turf equipment, as well as the higher cost and lack of availability in the rental/leasing market, makes buying a better option for his company.

Availability – Owning the equipment takes away the worry of whether it will be available when you need it. “When you own the equipment, it allows your projects to revolve around your schedule and not a third party,” Sentell said. Lewis agreed: “You know it will be available when you need it. Because of the small market, everyone is usually working on the same time frame, so there’s always the possibility it won’t be available.”

Budgeting – Brian Winka, CSFM, is parks supervisor for the Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex in Missouri. With more than 250 acres to manage, including 32 playing fields and numerous practice fields, he said buying is his best option. Each piece of equipment has a life cycle, and Winka forecasts out 10 years to determine what equipment will need to be replaced and when. Of course, if a piece of equipment breaks down before its projected life cycle ends, that requires a balancing act to decide whether to replace it, make due without or defer the purchase of another piece of equipment and use those funds to buy the machine.

“It’s much easier to plan purchases instead of trying to make a decision on a yearly basis,” he said. “For additional or new equipment we have to be able to show a need and be able to show how it will make us more efficient.”

Before you buy

If buying is in the organization’s best interest, both purchasers and suppliers offer suggestions to ensure the highest return on investment:

Know what you’re buying – For Winka, who manages both warm and cool-season turf, it’s important that he can take the machine for a test drive. “Having equipment to demo before a purchase is key to us. I want to be able to see if it really is going to fit our needs.” Sentell encourages buyers to do their homework: “Consult with peers who have made similar choices. Find out what they would have done the same or different, and what they didn’t expect that came into play.”

Know the hidden costs – The cost of a piece of equipment goes beyond the sticker price. Take into account parts, labor and maintenance for that machine. Also, Sentell said, take into consideration that many types of equipment require tractors with rear hydraulic remotes, specialty transmissions and other functions. “The cost of getting your equipment up to spec can greatly impact the initial cost of purchasing.”

Rent, lease or buy, equipment procurement is a big investment but a vital one.

“Don’t paint yourself into a corner or be shortsighted on resource requirements,” Sentell said. “And always have a backup plan.”

Cheryl Higley is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She also is editorial director for Snow Business magazine, the official publication of the Snow & Ice Management Association. Contact her at chigley@mooserivermedia.com.