Golf may be deeply rooted in tradition, but that doesn’t mean the game and the courses we play haven’t changed over time. Golf is continually evolving, and new technology is a driving force in that process.
This is especially true when it comes to golf course maintenance. Better mowers, new grasses and improved irrigation systems have transformed playing conditions and the innovation shows no signs of slowing down. Today’s superintendents use an amazing array of new technology to improve playability and manage resources better than ever before.
USGA agronomist Brian Whitlark works with golf facilities throughout the western U.S. and sees new technology having a big impact.
“In the West, many courses are focusing on technology that can help save water and labor because we have a scarce supply of both,” said Whitlark. “In other parts of the country, reducing the pesticide budget might be a bigger priority. Regardless of the challenge, there is new technology that can help.”
La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos, Calif., is located near the heart of Silicon Valley, so it should come as no surprise that utilizing new technology is a way of life for superintendent Kevin Breen.
“Golf courses are facing tighter budgets and it’s increasingly difficult to find and retain qualified staff,” said Breen. “In addition, water, fuel and other resources are getting more expensive. Technology helps us deliver the best possible product while managing costs and doing our part to conserve critical resources.”
Optimizing water use is one area where new technology has had a big impact at La Rinconada. Breen and his staff use sophisticated irrigation control software and portable moisture meters to help them water with great precision. Recently, they added a new high-tech tool to their arsenal – a drone.
“We started using a drone equipped with specialized cameras and sensors to improve our scouting,” said Breen. “The drone automatically flies the same route over the course every time, gathering temperature and turf performance data. Then we download digital maps from that day’s flight to guide our watering and maintenance plans. The imagery allows us to see patterns and identify irrigation issues we might otherwise have missed – that helps us save water and maintain better playing conditions.”
The drone isn’t the only interesting new technology that’s improving course maintenance at La Rinconada. Breen is also using a robotic putting green mower.
“We have a noise restriction near our practice facility that prevents us from operating gas-powered equipment before a certain hour,” said Breen. “I looked into various electric mower options because they are much quieter and finally I decided to try a robotic mower. There was so much to do at the practice facility each morning, I felt like the added productivity would be a huge benefit, and the robot was quiet enough to operate without violating the noise restriction.”