John Deere ups the tech ante, unveils autonomous fairway mower (video)

A select group of superintendents got a peek at the product during John Deere’s Golf Technology Preview. See it in action yourself.


John Deere Golf Technology Preview
John Deere showcased some of its latest innovations for the golf market during an event tied to this week’s PGA Tour John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Illinois. Photo courtesy of John Deere

Offering a glimpse into its vision for the future of golf course management, John Deere pulled back the curtain on an autonomous fairway mower and also announced the acquisition of the OnLink software platform during the company’s Golf Technology Preview event earlier this week in Coal Valley, Ill.

The outing was held at the company’s primary testing and demonstration site — located not far from Deere’s world headquarters in Moline, Ill. — and was part of the festivities surrounding the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, being contested at nearby TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. A group of nearly 75 superintendents who had played in a Monday pro-am at Deere Run joined the company for the event on Tuesday.

“We’ve been working really hard for many years to learn from our customers, to try and understand the challenges and needs facing today’s superintendents,” says Manny Gan, John Deere’s director of global golf. “And from that work, we knew that going forward, precision turf solutions were going to be crucial to our customers. We feel that the solutions we’ve introduced are going to do just that as we move into the future.”

At the event, John Deere also showed off two other pieces of its precision turf management solution: its GPS PrecisionSprayer and its 2700 and 2750 PrecisionCut and E-Cut Hybrid triplex greens mowers. Both product lines officially debuted at the 2019 Golf Industry Show in San Diego.

But the real showstopper was clearly the autonomous fairway mower, which Deere officials touted for its potential to address the growing labor challenges facing superintendents. The prototype on display this week in Illinois was built on the backbone of John Deere’s 7500A fairway mower and is outfitted with GPS technology that guides the mower based on fairway mapping and routing set in advance by the superintendent. Sensors on the front and back of the mower detect obstacles that may be encountered while mowing and allow the machine to steer clear.

What do you think? See what other superintendents are saying about John Deere’s autonomous fairway mower and join the discussion on Twitter.

While a finished product likely won’t be available for at least a few years, a handful of units are being demoed right now on golf courses around the country, and Deere is hopeful that full demos will be available to customers at some point in 2020.

“All this really started with the GPS sprayer, and the response to that has been so good that we knew we were doing the right things with our work on this fairway mower,” says Brooks Hastings, product manager for John Deere. “Autonomous equipment such as this is something that’s clearly been talked about and explored for several years, so to be able to actually unveil this and see the reaction of customers to it is just tremendous.”

The day’s other big news may not have been as Twitter-friendly as the autonomous fairway mower, but John Deere’s acquisition of OnLink — a cloud-based golf course management platform that enables golf courses to collect data and manage equipment, labor, water, chemicals and nutrients, and playing conditions — was no less impactful for those in golf course management, or for Deere’s future plans for a fully integrated, connected platform of offerings for superintendents.

“OnLink really ties everything together for us,” says Tracy Lanier, product marketing manager for John Deere. “With this tool, you’re not just looking at the equipment side, but you can manage the labor side, the chemical side, the water side. As our machines and our business get more connected, we really think OnLink is a key piece that brings it all together to help superintendents manage their golf courses better.”

The partnership between John Deere and OnLink dates back to 2017, when the two companies began collaborating. With this week’s news, Deere takes full control of the software platform and its existing service agreements and will begin to integrate the technology into John Deere’s suite of technology solutions.

Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.