To Save Money, One Mississippi Golf Course is Going "Greener" and Switching From Gasoline to Propane to Power Equipment and Golf Carts

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To combat record high gasoline prices, The Refuge (an upscale daily fee public golf course in Flowood, Mississippi) is converting its maintenance equipment and gasoline-powered golf carts to propane.

From social networking to partnering with the Mississippi Braves baseball team, The Refuge—an upscale daily fee course near Jackson known as the “Best Purely Public Golf Course in Mississippi”—has always been an aggressive leader in golf marketing among courses in the Magnolia State. Now The Refuge is making a “greener” name for itself by being the first in the area to convert equipment and golf carts from gasoline to propane powered engines.

“At Watermark Golf Management [the company that manages the course for the City of Flowood], we’ve always worked to lighten our footprint while improving our clients’ bottom line,” explains Watermark’s Nathan Crace. “We’ve spent years installing native areas to reduce maintenance, improving existing conservation areas, and minimizing nitrogen outputs. Even though our industry is already inherently ‘green,’ the switch to propane was a good fit and almost came about by accident.”

Crace says he was talking with The Refuge’s golf course superintendent (and Watermark senior agronomist) Bill Whatley during a staff meeting about their concerns regarding the spike in gasoline prices and the future impact on the facility’s bottom line when Whatley mentioned a phone call from a friend who worked for a propane company. Whatley’s friend told him that a number of commercial lawn companies were replacing gasoline-powered mowers with new propane-powered machines and asked if that was a possibility at The Refuge. Crace told Whatley to set up a meeting with Lampton Love Propane and within a few days the discussion about conversion began to get serious.

“They brought a zero-turn commercial mower that had been converted to propane to show us how it worked as well as the results and the data from their initial testing,” Crace said. “Once we started putting a pencil to it and were able to get some help with the logistics of the propane tanks that the equipment would use, we saw a tremendous potential to really make a difference.”

When Lampton Love began converting the first greens mower in early March, the difference in a gallon of propane versus a gallon of gasoline was about $1.00. Now the difference is nearly $1.20 per gallon. Crace wanted to convert one greens mower to propane and run it and a similar gasoline greens mower simultaneously for a period of time to generate real world data in their particular application. What they found amazed not only Crace and Whatley, but also Lampton Love’s Rusty Easterling.

“We knew the long-term wear on the engines would be lower using propane and that the carbon emissions would be reduced,” recalls Easterling. “What we didn’t realize what just how much more efficient the equipment would be once they compared the gasoline unit to the propane-powered unit.”

What they found was that carbon emissions were reduced immediately by nearly 75% and operational efficiency was also dramatically increased. For example, they could safely mow 44 greens using one tank of gasoline before the conversion. Operating on a 7.5 gallon propane tank, however, that number jumped to 76 greens! The fuel quantity savings combined with the savings in the actual cost of the fuel had Crace thinking they could see an immediate savings in the fuel line item of the course’s budget. That did not include the additional savings from less wear on the engines versus gasoline and less expensive maintenance and upkeep. Plus the propane-powered engine seemed to run quieter than the gasoline-powered engine—a nice bonus.

“We immediately began working to convert the rest of the maintenance equipment and staff utility carts from gas to propane as well as discussing converting our gasoline-powered fleet of sixty EZ-GO golf carts,” explained Crace. “We have been working with Lampton Love’s designers in developing a compact propane conversion system for the carts that is safe and out of the way of the golfers--we can’t simply mount it in the back because you have to have room for the bags and there’s no room beneath the seat. So we came up with a pretty ingenious design that we will begin to install on the entire fleet later in April once fabrication is complete.”

When asked about the perception that propane is more dangerous that gasoline, Easterling explained that the propane industry is already heavily regulated by various government agencies and several redundant safeguards are in place. Additionally, the entire maintenance staff at the course had to attend a workshop on using propane. He also said that propane is safer than gasoline because gasoline is highly flammable and explosive, yet anyone with a few dollars can buy gasoline at the corner convenience store.

“Lampton Love has been working closely with our staff to design special propane tanks that are only compatible with our equipment,” Crace said. “These are not your typical gas grill propane tanks and fittings. We knew we would be held to a higher standard and both Lampton Love and our team wanted to get this right from the beginning. They’ve been a great partner in this process.”

With what they learn from the conversions at The Refuge, Lampton Love hopes to expand their conversions and propane usage to other golf courses. Likewise, Crace says he has already begun sharing his findings with Watermark Golf’s other clients—from both the club management and golf course architecture divisions.

For more information about propane conversion for gasoline engines and The Refuge’s story, visit http://www.gogasmangreen.com. More information about the Watermark Golf Companies can be found at http://www.watermarkgolf.com.

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Nathan Crace
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