Watermark Golf Management wins National “Golf Business Idea of the Year” Award for Switching from Gasoline to Propane Power at The Refuge Golf Course

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Within a year of switching all gasoline-powered maintenance equipment at The Refuge to propane, the National Golf Course Owners Association of America recognized Watermark Golf Management's switch as one of three "Golf Business Ideas of the Year" for 2012.

When Watermark Golf Management’s Nathan Crace received a congratulatory voice mail from the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) in January of this year, he was admittedly caught off guard. A unique cost cutting method they had implemented at The Refuge (a course the company manages for the City of Flowood, Mississippi) had garnered the company and the course one of three national “Golf Business Idea of the Year” awards.

Watermark won in the “Cost Cutters” category for their conversion from gasoline to propane-powered equipment at The Refuge in early 2012. The award was presented to Crace earlier this year during the NGCOA annual conference in San Diego, where he and the winners of the other two categories participated in a panel discussion about the industry with conference attendees.

“Watermark has always been dedicated to operational performance for our clients,” explains Crace. “And in 2012 we looked at converting our gasoline-powered maintenance equipment and golf carts to propane as a way to improve the bottom line by utilizing alternative fuel sources and cutting fuel costs and it worked very well.”

Crace says they stumbled upon the idea almost by accident when he was talking with The Refuge’s golf course superintendent (and Watermark senior agronomist) Bill Whatley regarding the spike in gasoline prices and its impact on the bottom line. Whatley had a friend who worked for a propane company that had been assisting a number of commercial lawn companies in converting gasoline-powered mowers to propane and asked if that would be a possibility at The Refuge. Crace told Whatley to set up a meeting with Lampton Love Propane (a division of Ergon, Inc.) and within a few days the discussion about conversion became serious.

“Lampton Love brought a zero-turn commercial mower that had been converted to propane to show us how it worked as well as the results and data from their initial testing,” Crace said. “Once we started running our own numbers, we saw a tremendous potential to really make a difference.”

When Lampton Love converted the first greens mower in early March of 2012, the difference in a gallon of propane versus a gallon of gasoline was fluctuating between $1.00 and $1.20 per gallon. However, Crace wanted to convert one greens mower to propane and run it against a similar gasoline-powered 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 engineers.

The data showed that carbon emissions decreased immediately by nearly 75% while operational efficiency was dramatically increased. For example, they could mow 44 greens on one 7.4 gallon tank of propane versus only 31 greens using one slightly larger standard tank of gasoline. The fuel quantity savings combined with the savings in the actual cost of the fuel had Crace and Whatley thinking they could see an immediate savings in the fuel line item of the course’s budget. Additionally, those savings did not include the added 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.

Watermark immediately began working with Lampton Love designers to convert the remaining equipment and staff utility carts from gas to propane. Additionally, one of the sixty EZ-GO gasoline golf carts was converted as a test vehicle for the rest of the fleet.

“There’s no reason that we can’t improve our clients’ bottom line without losing focus on conservation,” explains Crace. “We’ve spent years at The Refuge installing native areas to reduce maintenance, improving existing conservation areas, upgrading irrigation technology, and minimizing nitrogen outputs. In the long run, all of those programs have saved money and improved conservation efforts. The switch to propane was a good fit with those steps and we also saved money in the process.”

Crace added that the City of Flowood has since converted mowers in their Landscape, Parks & Recreation, and Roadway Maintenance departments from gasoline to propane following the success of the conversions at The Refuge. He also hears that other golf courses in the area are looking into converting their equipment and some have already converted gasoline-powered golf carts to propane.

“The NGCOA award was a big surprise,” Crace laughs. “We didn’t realize we were even in the running. But it’s nice to have the work that Lampton Love and our staff at The Refuge put into this program be recognized by a panel of golf industry insiders who know how important this could be for other courses across the country and even our entire industry in the long run.”
Lampton Love continues to evaluate data and Crace says he has been sharing the findings with Watermark Golf’s other clients—from both the club management and golf course design divisions. More information about the propane conversions and The Refuge’s story is at http://www.gogasmangreen.com. More information about the Watermark Golf Companies can be found at http://www.watermarkgolf.com. Information about the National Golf Course Owners Association can be found at http://www.ngcoa.org.

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