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USGA map-based web tool a boon to superintendents

USGA map-based tool helps reduce costs and improve golfer experience.


May 9, 2017
By David McPherson

Imagine this scenario. Your boss comes to you at the start of the season and says you need to cut your operating budget by 10 per cent. Like an accountant at tax time, you scramble to pour through your annual spreadsheets — outlining your income and expenses to see where you can trim some fat.

Even though you have the numbers in front of you, it is still a bit of a guessing game since how do you really prioritize what is most crucial to meeting your core objective of providing the best course for members to enjoy without impacting the primary playing surfaces? Now picture this. What if there was a tool that could better quantify how you use your resources on different parts of the course, giving you data to make this cost cutting exercise simpler?

Thanks to the United States Golf Association (USGA) this is fast becoming a reality. The USGA has introduced Resource Management, a new web-based product that will help golf course superintendents, owners and operators be more precise, efficient and productive in maintaining their facilities.

Launched earlier this year during the North American Golf Innovation Symposium in Vancouver, the USGA Resource Management is a map-based tool that allows facility managers to better understand their consumption of resources – such as labour, water and fuel – and to measure accurately, even down to the square foot, the allocation of these resources to each feature of the golf course. The data will help facilities to manage their maintenance practices in ways that reduce costs while also improving the experience of their golfers.

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 Jim Moore planted the seeds for this new tool before he retired from the USGA after 35 years last July. Moore was part of the Green Section for his 33-year tenure with golf’s governing body. Today, USGA agronomist Adam Moeller is taking Moore’s vision to the next level, helping bring it to a wider audience.  

“Jim had always wanted a way to document how many resources were being used on a golf course – not on macro level but on a micro level – to see the parts of a course that don’t get a lot of traffic,” explains Moeller, director, USGA Green Section Education.

Using Excel, Moore gathered endless data and helped courses pinpoint valuable information such as how much gasoline they used to mow any tee complex and to show exactly where one’s labour was going. As he dug deeper into these numbers and smart technology advanced, the agronomist came up with the idea that golf courses could combine this information with newer GPS technology — creating a win-win for everyone.

A helping hand by golfers
The USGA Greens Section runs a course consulting service, which is basically a subsidized visit by a USGA agronomist. “As part of that service, we started to offer a golf courses kit where we ship 200 of these golf loggers,” explains Kimberly Erusha, managing director, Green Section. “Golfers can put them in their pocket at the start of a round, then turn them in at the end of the round. They provide basic demographic info such as gender, age, handicap and it’s all anonymous.”

The golf course then packs all those loggers in a kit and sends them back to the USGA at Far Hills, N.J. The USGA then produces images of those for a superintendent to put on Google Earth and analyze.

“Moore figured that once we understood where golfers go, superintendents could use this data to reclassify that part of their course that gets less traffic,” Moeller adds. “For example, there is probably a lot of rough that doesn’t get traffic, so you could reduce your mowing and fertilizing in this area and create a new tier system breaking down your course into five different classifications of rough based on this GPS tracking. Then, you could take the resources you were using on that rough and transfer them to other areas that get more traffic such as tees.”

Today, Moore’s vision has evolved from a cumbersome Excel-based program to a high-level Web-based tool. Since every course in North America have maps that are on Google Earth, you can go online and see an accurate map and shape of each facility. Once these areas are mapped, you open up the tool and click on a fairway, for example, and you can see its size. Combine this information with the tracked data from golfers and that’s when the magic happens.

“Once you can define those areas where there is less traffic, you can then reduce your inputs to these parts of the course,” Moeller explains. “From labour to water costs to fertilizers… anything you put down on that surface you can classify and it will give you a cost and spit out information about the resources being used so you will now know what is the feature really costing you when it comes to labour.”

This is extremely valuable information because it allows golf course managers to take what they already know about their golf course and run these “what if scenarios.”

Moeller offers an example. Think about the amount of money spent on maintaining bunkers. “Once we use the GPS loggers, in almost every case, courses are surprised that some of their bunkers don’t get used that often,” he says. “Superintendents often know this based on visual observation, but it’s hard to reduce the labour on these sand features without the supporting data. They can now use this data to reduce maintenance in a handful of bunkers and save all that labour and energy exerted on those inputs.”

Moeller offers one other example. You’ve decided to add new forward tees to help with pace of play. The next question to answer is do you add to your existing tee complex or do you put a tee in the fairway? The fairway might cost that much more to maintain. Using USGA Resource Management, the user could shrink the size of the tee on the fairway and see how it shrinks the cost. There’s no question this information is invaluable for the long-term financial health and sustainability of your golf course. The USGA tool is currently in the training stage with agronomists and they are slowly rolling it out to courses by using it as part of their course consulting services.

“The USGA Resource Management tool has the potential to bring analytical data for golf course superintendents and golf course architects,” concludes Bill Green, golf course and grounds superintendent, Cutten Fields in Guelph, Ont. “This data can then be turned into an excellent communication tool to members, committees, and staff to implement suggested changes to design and maintenance practices.”

The USGA Resource Management product will be an important part of the toolkit used by USGA agronomists across the country in 2017 as they work directly with facilities to improve the impact and efficiency of their maintenance practices. To contact a USGA Green Section agronomist, visit: www.usga.org/greensectionstaff.html.


David McPherson is a freelance writer in Waterloo, Ont.