The Reel World

Golfers have high expectations for the courses they play. They watch professionals putt on glass-like greens in tournaments all over the country and they want the same experience. To maintain quality turf effectively, you have many choices when it comes to reel-mower attachments and options. Some of the more well-known reel-mower options are:

  • Number of blades
  • Roller type
  • Roller scrapers
  • Turf penetration devices

Each attachment provides different results depending on situations and course conditions. Exploring each option will give you an idea of what to expect from each.


The number of blades on a reel affects several key factors when mowing including clip rate, efficiency and height of cut. When choosing how many blades your reel mower should have, consider your performance expectations.

  • Four- or five-blade reels

    Use a mower with four- or five-blade reels on golf-course roughs and other informal areas.

  • Six-, seven- and eight-blade reels

    These options are most frequently chosen for grooming golf-course tees, approaches, fairways and other low-cut formal areas.

  • Ten- or 11-blade reels

    Ten- or 11-blade reels typically manicure golf-course tees, fairways, approaches, greens and other formal areas that require a low cut. Space between blades and the diameter of the reel determine the ranges of height of cut for these machines.

The length of grass that a mower can effectively cut and discharge is lowered when the number of blades increases and the space between the blades decreases. In other words, the shorter you cut turf, the more blades you'll need, and the less space between the blades, the better. For example, the suggested height of cut range is higher for a four-blade model than for an 11-blade model.

Clip rate is also affected by the number of blades. Lower clip rates provide you with a more desirable appearance after the cut and can also make a surface that is much smoother for play. You should consult your operator's manual for a suggested height-of-cut range and mower speed to utilize the capabilities of your mower.


Mechanical rolling did not gain popularity in the United States until the mid-1980s; but once the machines reached American courses, superintendents readily integrated them into their routines. Superintendents who are trying to balance healthy turf and fast greens should strongly consider rolling their greens rather than lowering mowing heights.

The density of turf often makes it necessary to add a roller to the front of your reels. By doing this, you can improve the mower's effective height of cut and increase turf penetration. There are three main types of rollers that you can use, depending on your needs and expectations of the turf.

  • Grooved roller

    Because of the multiple contact points that result from the grooved roller surface, these rollers offer the maximum penetration of turf.

  • Swaged roller

    Swaged rollers penetrate the grass surface less because only the outer edges of the roller (rather than the roller's center) make contact with the turf.

  • Full roller

    This roller penetrates very little into turf. It's best used when mowing more stubborn turf that tends to “pop up” after being rolled.

It is important to choose the roller that gives you the best penetration for your turf. Turf areas with a thatch layer especially need to be maintained with a roller attached. Also keep in mind that sand, soil and grass clippings often build up on rollers during mowing, which negatively affects a mower's possible height of cut. To combat this, you should keep a careful eye on your rollers and consider using a roller-scraper option or a roller-cleaning-brush option if this is available. The need for roller scrapers or roller cleaning brushes increases when you're faced with wet turf conditions.


Turf-preparation devices work with rollers to literally stand the grass up for maximum results in cutting and to decrease the buildup of thatch, grain and sponginess. Rollers tend to force turfgrass blades to lay down, so these devices are particularly useful because they help the grass stand back up.

With more courses being converted each year to more modern turfgrass cultivars, mowing equipment must be capable of cutting lower and grooming better than ever before. Turf preparation devices provide superintendents with more options to be able to build a tailored management plan for maintaining their turf. A few turf preparation devices are:

  • Combs

    Combs are mounted behind the roller and used to raise grass up to assist in cutting and to minimize grain formation. Combs are the least aggressive option among your turf preparation device choices.

  • Brushes

    Rotating or fixed brushes are more effective than combs at brushing up grass. Brushes are mounted behind the roller and are designed to decrease the tendency of grain formation. Brushes lift the grass blades into the reel and allow them to be cut cleanly. Brushes can be used with walking or riding mowers.

  • Turf groomers

    The most aggressive of the preparation options, groomers use several small, rotating blades to stand grass blades up and cut horizontally growing grass stems. Turf groomers promote healthy vertical growth of turf. Turf groomers also allow you to increase green speed without lowering the height of cut. This leaves the turf healthier — an additional benefit of turf groomers.

  • Sweepers

    Sweepers are used as an attachment to collect cores left behind by aeration on undulating greens and uneven terrains.

  • Collar pipes

    The collar pipe was invented by a superintendent who simply was looking for a way to eliminate scalped collars. A collar pipe serves like a point on a compass and eliminates cutting problems associated with an operator who may not do the same pass each and every time.

    All five of these options fit directly onto the reel-mower unit. There are special-purpose units that fit in place of the reel unit itself. Two special-purpose units are:

  • Dethatching reels

    Dethatching reels are designed similarly to turf groomers. The main difference is that their blades are nearly the same diameter as that of a regular reel blade. The blades rotate, severing stolons and throwing thatch to the surface for disposal. Dethatching helps maintain healthier grass with less grain while providing a smoother mowing and playing surface. When you remove thatch, you also reduce the use of fertilizer and water because your turf experiences less runoff.

  • Spikers

    In situations where you may need more penetration into the soil surface, you can use spikers. A spiker unit has several rotating blades that act like daggers to pierce the surface. The openings created by the spiker then allow for quicker access by water or chemicals to the root systems of the turf. This process allows turf to respond much quicker to the applied substance.

When you are cutting as low as 1/16 inch, you need a tailored management program for your turf. With these options, you can choose what best fits your needs and make corresponding decisions. When properly installed and applied, these items can help you maximize the potential of each piece of mowing equipment you own, creating an environment where their golfers can have the best experience possible.

Todd Kierstead is a product manager with Jacobsen, a Textron Company (Charlotte, N.C.).

Want to use this article? Click here for options!
© 2020 Penton Media Inc.

Interactive Products

Equipment Blue Book

Used Equipment Valuation Guide

Riding mowers, lawn tractors, snow throwers, golf carts


Grounds Maintenance Jobs

search our jobs database, upload your resume