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McClane Mowers Review

McClane Mowers from Paramount California (760) 329-7118 sent me a mower to review for this web site. I am frequently asked what kind of mower to purchase for a putting green and where to get it. Unfortunately, most of the greenmowers on the market today are high-end professional strength units that are thousands of dollars on up to tens of thousands for ride on units. There really isn't any product on the market that addresses the needs of the backyard greenskeeper with a reasonably priced mower. That is what I thought until a web site visitor posted information to me about McClane. Since then, I have been inundated with e-mail and phone call questions about McClane, the various models that they carry and the relative performance and product quality. I really couldn't comment about the equipment because I didn't own one.
mcclane mower
My new Honda 2.5 17" McClane Self Propelled Mower
Qualcast Mower
My Trusty old Qualcast Push Mower
Since I built my green, I have been using a Qualcast Shortcut Greensmower which I purchased back in 1995. This "push only" unit was made in England but is no longer manufactured since the company Atco-Qualcast was bought out by Bosch in Europe. This unit has a 5 blade reel with a small roller in front and a large heavy roller behind. The height is adjusted with small sliders and thumb screws on the side and can cut down to 3/16". The only other setting that can be adjusted on the qualcast is the bedknife/reel contact. In other words, you can set the reel tightly or loosely to the bedknife. The tighter you go, the finer the cut, but the harder it is to push. Since it is a push unit, it gets caught up if the grass is dense. This forces you to make sure the blade is always razor sharp, the unit well lubricated and the bedknife/reel contact setting is a little loose. The unit is really well built and has served me well through the years. By cutting twice and then rolling, I can achieve a fine rolling green surface, perfect for practice and challenging enough for neighborhood competitions. The Qualcast has a hard plastic catch bin to remove clippings, and the unit is sharpened by backlapping. I have never required service for the unit.
McClane Mowers sells several models of mowers suitable for putting green maintenance. Their entry level unit is a push unit selling for around $300 (prices subject to change) making this a very attractive unit for the entry-level backyard greenskeeper with a smaller green who is just "testing the waters" with this hobby. Keep in mind that with a push unit, you have to push it to and from the green (they are heavy ) and then you must push it around the green. When you first start cutting a green, the cutting is heavy and tough. The smooth cuts won't come until the green is properly grown in and top dressed several times with fine sand. One option for those of you in this category might be to purchase the push unit, and then if you want to upgrade to a power unit, you can always sell your push unit. There is an active market in the used greensmower business, especially on this web site, and I would be more than happy to post free advertising for you to help you sell it.
mcclane mower
Note the throttle, drive and clutch controls on the handlebar.
The power units sold by McLane range in price, features, engine make, number of blades and cutting width. The unit that they shipped me was a 10 Blade, 17" cut, Self propelled, greenmower with a Honda 2.5 HP engine. I was happy to get the Honda engine since I own a Honda Harmony lawnmower with a Hydrostatic Clutch that is the most oustanding lawnmower on the market. The salesman who sold me the Harmony told me that I will be passing this Honda on to my son someday. I love it. Anyway, the McClane was shipped to me by freight since it is a big machine (142 pounds). It came in a sturdy cardboard box and required some assembly (manuals included). The assembly instructions were a little confusing ... but I'm not known as a mechanical person. This unit sells for under $1000, a reasonable price for this good a product. It looks more like a snowblower than it does a lawnmower. Here are the steps involved in assembling:

1. Get the thing out of the box (not as easy as it sounds)
2. Assemble the Handle with 6 bolts. There is a muffler baffler that attaches to the handle bracket.
3. Assemble the Drive control rod between the lever control and the Drive unit
4. Assemble the Clutch control rod between the lever control and the Clutch belt (a spinning belt)
5. Install the Throttle Cable and Lever onto the Handle (this isn't in the instructions)
6. Fill gas tank with unleaded gas
7. Fill engine with SAE 10W-30 4 stroke oil
8. Adjust the height settings (more on this later)
9. Install the grass catch bin and net

This took about an hour (maybe less for those that aren't mechanically impaired). Now I was ready for my first test run.

scalp job
Ouch .. this scalping will heal with some top dressing
The problem with this kind of equipment is ... where do you run it to test it? You can't test it in your regular lawn because it cuts way too low. The only option is to bring it right out onto the green and start her up risking some serious damage as you get familiar with the mower. That's what happened to me. The good news is that the unit fired right up. Set the choke, turn the mower switch on and gas on, and she started on the first pull (another Honda trait). The clutch lever brings the belt into contact with the pulley that drives the reel blade. The belt tension should be tight enough to start the belt, but light enough not to stress the belt or it will wear out quickly. This is a little tricky and may take several adjustments of the rod and/or the handle bolts to get the proper setting. The bad news is that the unit was set low and scalped my collar right down to the earth! After re-setting the blade height to the highest setting (I recommend starting here) ... I cut the collar in about 15 seconds. The mower travels quickly (the speed can be set up or down) and cutting my green will now be a snap. It used to take me about 15 minutes for a 1000 sf green with the push unit. Now it will take me less than 5 minutes (another advantage and reason to buy a power unit).
If I have one complaint .. the height adjustment isn't easy to change. There are two bolts on each side of the front roller that need to be loosened as well as the roller rod itself and then the adjustment knobs (with their bolts and nuts). This works, but it is a little time consuming if you want to cut the collar at one height and then the green at another. I guess that you can get used it but it is a pain. There are good guide notches in the height adjustment that tell you exactly how high/low your are (I think they are 1/8" increments). This should make precise cutting a snap.

After experimenting and scalping my collar, I got the hang of it and cut my green. All I have to say is WOW! I thought that my Qualcast did a nice job, but this thing ROCKS! To start, the heavy weight really rolls the turf flat and smooth, something that my lightweight Qualcast never did. In fact my old mower, with it's light setting would often skip tufts of grass and leave a "grain" of stems behind. The McClane's finely set 10 blades expertly slice every blade right down to an even, and smooth setting. Even though I set the height at about 3/16", the McClane cut a lot more (maybe double) than what my Qualcast did. The catch bin was so full, I had to empty it twice (watch out when it gets too full and heavy because this extra weight causes the front end to dig in and catch a little bit). I recommend that you empty the bin often and try to keep the front end moving smoothly across the green. The self-propelled unit did a great job of pulling itself along. I only had to push it in a few areas where my green was a little heavy and uneven. The wide 17" cut is also a thrill, because the fewer the "seams" the smoother the overall cut. With this wide a cut, I was done in just a few minutes.

adjustment knobs
Height Adjustment screws
adjustment knobs
An excellent tool!
reel blades
The heavy roller and 10 blades provide a superior fine cut
I thought that my green was in good shape ... properly top-dressed, green and smooth, but after using the McClane ... I have some scalping again. I will have to top-dress some more to get the green used to the new low cut setting. I dug out my putter and a few balls and Whoah! the speed was incredible. I could barely keep balls on the green, and I only cut it at a pretty high setting (I'm not sure yet ... but I think it was cut around 3/16" ... I have to figure out and calibrate the adjustment markings on the mower). The resulting cut is the fastest I have ever seen my green in 4 years even after triple cutting and rolling with my Qualcast. I will be able to have a green speed to rival any club: public or the best private with the McClane. This is truely a professional piece of equipment. But with a shorter cut, you have more stress to the green and will require more care: watering, top-dressing, etc.

At this point I would highly recommend the McClane Product to the backyard greenskeeper. It isn't perfect ... but it is an outstanding hybrid machine. Speaking with McClane, they told me that they are working on a new-improved model with better height setting control. The power units should be taken care of as you would any power equipment. The unit ships with a guide to the Honda motor and a 2 year factory warranty. Make sure to follow the directions in care and maintenance of the motor, and you should have years of good performance. I think that if you have a green smaller than 800 SF and your budget is a main concern, the push unit is an option for you. As I mentioned .. you can always upgrade later. But if you have a 1000 SF + green, and with one of these beauties I see no reason why you can't have a green of 2000 SF - 5000 SF if you want it and have the land. Shoot ... I might cut my whole back yard with this thing. Cutting with this equipment is a joy and will certainly take some of the labor out of the hobby for you and me.

My thanks to the McClane people for letting me evaluate their equipment. I hope that this information will help you all in making an informed purchase decision. You can contact McClane Mowers at: (760) 329-7118 or at their web site: http://www.mclanegreensmowers.com/. If you have any questions you can always e-mail me at leomelanson@verizon.net.

Feel free to drop me a line with any questions that you might have, especially if you are thinking about this project and would like to talk to someone about the work involved.

Leo Melanson

6 Pheasant Run Drive
Newburyport, MA 01950
Questions: (978) 465-9345