June editorial: Drones and other golf innovations

New technology and falling budgets
Mike Jiggens
June 09, 2017
By
In these days of dwindling budgets, when labour tends to be the first casualty, golf course superintendents are increasingly challenged to produce consistent playing conditions with less.

But then along comes some new form of technology that makes certain jobs less cumbersome or requiring fewer inputs, and things begin to even themselves out once more.

Smarter irrigation systems have allowed golf courses to save on their water consumption. More recently, moisture probes are enhancing water conservation that much more.

More recently yet is the introduction of the Air 2G2 machine that injects compressed air into the soil to a depth up to 12 inches, causing a fracturing effect of the compacted root zone. What makes it so attractive is that it causes no surface disruption and leaves the turf immediately playable.

The procedure is less laborious than core aerating, leaving more time for other tasks to be completed, and time  is money.

What has the industry all abuzz today are drones and the versatility they bring to golf. There are several constructive things these miniature flying machines can do that can result in savings of time, labour and inputs.

There is a cost associated with drones and a skill set required for their operation. Golf courses willing to push past these obstacles can reap the benefits. When drones are equipped with multi-spectral cameras, they provide mapped data that shows where water can be better managed, where fertilizer use can be optimized and where pesticides can be better utilized. All of this translates into savings that allow golf courses to do more with less.

An advocate of drone use of note is Thomas Bastis, superintendent at the California Club at San Francisco, who shared his insights with at least two Canadian audiences so far this year. In March, he spoke in Victoria, B.C. at the Canadian Golf Course Management Conference and later addressed a session in Guelph, Ont. that was organized by first-year turf management students from the University of Guelph. Bastis, in fact, is the university’s superintendent in residence this year.

More of what Bastis has to say about drone technology can be found on page 8 of this issue.

Drones may not be for everyone. First of all there is an expense attached to them, and some superintendents might be reluctant to want to send a not-so-cheap asset into the air that they fear might fall to the ground, crash into a tree or be attacked by a bird of prey. But, like most other electronic contraptions, prices are apt to fall as demand rises. There are other superintendents yet who are old school and prefer their own trusted methods and aren’t quite comfortable venturing into such new territory.

There are also federal Ministry of Transportation regulations to keep in mind, the most significant of which is that drones cannot be operated if they are within a certain distance of an airport. There are some golf courses located adjacent to major airports, and strict regulations would prevent their use.

At the majority of golf courses in Canada, drones are apt to be an ideal fit, and some superintendents have long since embraced the technology and are helping to spread the message.

Drones are not just friends of the superintendent. The course owner or general manager will find them useful as well, and this could lead to a sharing of costs between the course itself and its maintenance department. For promotional purposes, drones can be outfitted with a high-definition video camera and flown from tee to green of each hole, giving golfers an idea of how to play the hole and a look at the hazards and other obstacles to avoid. The video can then  be posted on the golf course’s website.

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