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Dr Ian Plummer

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Lawn Care
Expense of Maintaining a Croquet Lawn

Duncan Reeve asked on the Nottingham list (Nov 2015):

 "Can anyone share any benchmark figures for annual lawn maintenance costs?

We have 2 high quality lawns and are considering moving from part volunteer labour, to fully outsourced labour."

The maintenance of a lawn is expensive, especially for chemical treatments, some of which can only be done by qualified people. Costs will depend on:

  • The layout of the lawns - are they all the same level and hence can  be cut sequentially without stopping, are there sources of debris (e.g. fir cones, leaves) which must be cleared first, are the ball boundaries easy to move, what is the distance travelled to dump the clippings, are the lawns close to a source of weeds. Also remember to include the maintenance of the selvage (outfield) around the lawns.
  • The state of the lawns - bumpy lawns preclude the use of wide lawn mowers, poorly drained lawns will have more moss and weed problems etc.
  • Economies of scale - multi-lawn clubs or those sharing facilities with other turf sports can buy in bulk and share equipment.
  • The equipment available - small mowers take say 45 minutes to cover a lawn, whereas a sit-on 3-gang machine can knock off a lawn in 10 minutes.  Larger or older machines will have higher servicing costs. Larger machines will have a higher depreciation.
  • The extent and frequency of maintenance - cutting, top dressing, scarifying, verti-cutting, verti-draining, moss control, weed killer, insecticide, fungicide, surfactants, irrigation maintenance, reseeding …
  • Local costs - water costs, machinery depreciation and servicing.
  • Labour availability - whether professional or volunteer labour is available.

In some of the quotes below it is difficult to gauge whether all the work is being done externally.

Chris Clarke:  In New Zealand, I asked for a quote to maintain our 7 lawns at United a year ago and it was NZ$26000p.a. (£11.3K, ~£1.6K per lawn). We currently operate with mainly volunteer labour and it costs NZ$7k to $9k p.a. (£3-4K per lawn).

Campbell Morrison: … the figures I’ve seen range from about £3-5K per lawn per year.    I have had one quote for £9K per year per lawn (actually a bowling green, which of course is a bit larger), but that’s ridiculous.   This is all covering lawn maintenance and mowing.

Chris Clarke: That's very interesting. Your lower end cost of 3000 equates to NZ$7000 per lawn or $49000 for United - almost double what we were quoted. Clearly the upper end is over 3 times our quote. How many times a week or a year does that cost for the lawns to be cut? What other services are included - top dressing, scarifying, verti-cutting, verti-draining, moss control, weedkiller, irrigation maintenance, reseeding, water, other chemicals etc.?

I would guess that a club like Roehampton spends over £10K p.a. per lawn, but that is for an unusual level of perfection.

Jon Diamond:  We have 3 lawns and a part-time groundsman. The cost is averaging about £6K p.a. (£2K per lawn), excluding equipment purchase/depreciation, but we’re only top dressing every other year (as recommended by the groundsman) using an external contractor.

Martin French:  Before we moved Ipswich Club in 2012 from a public park to a local golf course, I did some research as I went around tournaments the season before.  I asked anyone I thought might know.  The figure per lawn where there was some kind of commercial arrangement in place (rather than local authority maintenance) was typically about £4K p.a.  This seemed about the same whether it was “fully outsourced” or whether they were directly employing labour and specialists as required.  Given the variations in standard and length of season, I was quite surprised how consistently this came back as the kind of sum

One well-maintained 4 lawn club near me, for example, was fully outsourced and paying £16K p.a. 

I found a couple of cases where a commercial arrangement was closer to £3K per lawn, but these were both very large clubs where economies of scale applied.  We have also achieved a cost in this region for Ipswich, because a golf course has enormous economies of scale already, compared to a stand-alone croquet club.  The golf course owner reasoned that he already had 28 greens (9 hole + 18 hole + 1 practice green) so adding two more was a small increment.  And of course they have all the kit to work very efficiently.  When in the park, it took 1 hour 40 mins for a bloke to mow two lawns.  Now at the golf course, it takes a bloke 20 minutes to mow two lawns using a 3 gang ride-on mower.  They have equipment at hand for every job that arises too. 

Jonathan Isaacs:  Using Southwick as a guideline you are looking at £3.7-4K per lawn per annum. They use outside contractors for all routine maintenance work and this costs covers mowing, white lining, maintenance, chemicals and dressings and care of the “outfield”.

Paul Rigge:  Bury's (two courts) cost just over £2K per annum - that covers mowing and white lining once/week, winter/spring top dressing, moss control. Other stuff like scarifying, verti-cutting and extra mowing is done by members using club equipment, so I'd guess ~£4K p.a. for you would return a reasonable playing surface at your place if contracted out.

Duncan Reeve:  Thanks for the various responses. For what it's worth, our expected costs are below. We are sparing no expense with our brand new lawns and expect higher costs initially.

  • Labour £4K (estimate 80 cuts throughout year with 3x weekly during peak season, plus application of materials)
  • Materials £2K
  • Plant hire £0.4K
  • Mower maintenance £0.7K

Total: ~£3.5K per lawn 

Chris Clarke: I don't understand your labour costs. For 2 lawns, it will take on average 30 to 40 minutes to cut (let's say 40). That's 54 hours per year. Application of materials, say 26 hours = 80. Are groundsmen earning £50 an hour or is that just the charge-out rate in the UK. We usually pay around £14 an hour in NZ.

Duncan Reeve:  Maybe we are paying too much for labour. That is certainly something I will discuss with our committee. However a cut takes over two hours from gate open to gate shut, including cutting the fringe, unloading clippings, moving boundary boards etc. 

Our groundsman is head groundsman of the local golf club and charges more than £14 / hour - life is expensive in SE England!

Chris Clarke: 2 hours? Is he using a hand mower? I can understand the cost if it takes 2 hours. It takes me about 70 minutes in Jan/Feb [in New Zealand]  to mow 6 lawns and about 120 minutes in October (peak growth).

Samir Patel: I think you’re forgetting how much grass likes growing during an English summer! 

Also, United is almost ideally laid out for ease of mowing (everything on a single level, no/lightweight stop-boards etc.) – this all saves time, and also allows use of larger (and therefore faster) equipment. 

I remember watching the NCC [Florida] cutting all of its lawns one morning during the World Championships in 2009, and quite how quickly it could be done without any obstacles and large, fast-moving equipment.

Martin French: So much depends on the investment made in the mowing machine.  A very competent park groundsman took 1 hour  40 mins to cut our 2 lawns when we were in the park – walking behind a single gang motor mower.  At the golf course, it takes 20 minutes to cut 2 lawns, as they have a ride-on 3-gang mower (and each cylinder is wider than the parkie’s single cylinder).  The ride-on cuts well even when travelling at the sort of speed you have to run to keep up with – but the mower costs £25K.

Chris Clarke: We bought our first John Deere Triplex off the local golf course for $3k (£1400) with over 4000 hours on the clock. It lasted 3 years. We bought our current one (another John Deere Triplex) for $15k (£6.5K) about 18 months ago. It had less than 2000 hours on the clock. You normally expect the engines to last about 4500 to 5000 hours. We expect it to last over 10 years, maybe 15.

Both were 90% funded by grant applications. It is much easier in NZ to gain grants for capital expenditure than for annual maintenance.

Samir is correct to highlight the different growing conditions that exist during the year. In peak summer, when I have the courts at 13 seconds, I will only take off about 9 catchers of grass over 6 lawns. In October, it is over 100.

The layout of clubs isn't as critical since whilst it is fast mowing E/W at United, mowing N/Z is effectively like mowing 6 individual lawns. Trying to avoid "non-mown" areas between lawns is handy though since this then requires a normal hover mower or somesuch usually wielded by a club member.

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