Robotic range equipment coming to Countryside, ThunderHawk golf courses in Lake County

Robotic range mowers and ball pickers will improve operations, officials say

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is going robotic to mow grass and pick up balls on driving ranges at its Countryside and ThunderHawk golf courses.

With record usage in recent years at both courses, using electric-powered robots will allow the grounds and clubhouse staff to spend more time in other areas, said Alex Eichman, director of golf.

“Each location will have two machines,” he said. “We'll work over the next few weeks to set up a plan and do some testing.”

Lake County Forest Preserve’s Countryside Golf Course near Mundelein. Daily Herald file

The forest board Tuesday approved a five-year, $296,000 contract with Automated Outdoor Solutions LLC to lease and maintain the equipment. Golf is an enterprise fund that pays for itself and each course will be charged $29,600 annually for the equipment.

Golf continues to ride wave of pandemic-induced interest in Lake County

“It was the right time,” Eichman said of the decision.

However, the technology is still new. Eichman said he'd rather wait to buy them so they can be tested and any bugs worked out. Another reason to wait is future models likely will increase in size and efficiency, he added.

Echo brand robotic range mowers and ball pickers — Eichman says they look like “giant Roombas” — can run 20 hours a day.

Forest district considers $1.4M plan for electric cart storage at Countryside Golf Club near Mundelein

The robots will work in tandem with the ball picker following the mower, which has special protective discs so it doesn’t damage balls on the range.

Driving range at Countryside Golf Club near Mundelein. Daily Herald file

Both are fuel and emissions free, GPS monitored and require “no human interaction other than managing it from an iPad occasionally,” Eichman said.

“We’ve had challenges getting a full maintenance staff from season to season,” he said.

The robots will cut back on human interaction on the range by 40%.

Golf in general exploded at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and has been riding a wave of post-pandemic popularity.

“Golf courses have been busy,” Eichman said.

In 2022, revenues from forest district golf course operations surpassed $5 million for a second consecutive season, a surprising and unexpected milestone. Operating revenue for 2023 is expected to be about $6 million, said Steve Neaman, finance director.

“Will it be a fourth consecutive year of increases? We don’t know,” Eichman said. “The weather is a huge determining factor.”

The practice range at Countryside in Mundelein has been particularly busy. The course is next door to Steeple Chase and down the road from Village Green, both 18-hole courses that don’t have driving ranges.

According to a rough estimate, about 1.1 million range balls were hit at Countryside last year. About 70% of those were by players warming up to play at Countryside with about 30% just practicing or playing elsewhere, Eichman said.

Countryside, which has two, 18-hole courses, opened March 29. ThunderHawk is opening Friday and the forest district’s Brae Loch course in Grayslake opens April 19.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.