Greenskeeping 25 years ago was an art. Now it’s fine art and a science. It required just as much work 25 years ago as it does now, despite the extensive use of power equipment and technology today. Although things have changed in the supervision of greenskeeping, there are more headaches. Turf specialists have had to be discovered and developed; super-fine grasses have to be produced to satisfy the demand of golfers who always want something better.
The following excerpt was written in 1952 entitled ‘Maintenance Changes from Art to Art and Science’.
“The way in which golf courses today are now managed is substantially different from those early years yet the responsibility is not any easier. Superintendents’ ability to provide quality-playing conditions is still their primary responsibility”.
But unlike the superintendents of 70 years ago, day-to-day responsibilities are much more time consuming as ongoing administrative functions, budgeting and the continual management of compliant standards can take away from their ability to oversee valued playing conditions.
Less time is now available to be out on the course and greenskeepers know there is no substitute for visual experience. Being able to see a course from the perspective of a golfer makes it possible to prioritize what needs to be done to enhance the playing experience for everyone.
Fly in the latest technology, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or drone.
Many golf facilities worldwide are aware of the stunning aerial imagery that these fixed wing and multi-rotor craft camera systems can produce.
There are many reputable photography companies in Canada that provide aerial flyovers of golf courses. Many are ground based course photographers who rent a hoist to provide the aerial shots. Now these photographers are employing UAVs to enhance their portfolios and provide extraordinary visuals creating a marketing advantage for those courses utilizing this airborne technology.
When researching the right company for your aerial flyover here are a few questions for discussion. Make sure you ask about postproduction costs. Do you require music to accompany the flyover? Receive a proper estimate on cost and time; discuss with the operator the issues with regards to weather delays. Select a time that does not inconvenience your membership or ground staff. Keep your membership informed of the times and dates of the proposed flyovers.
Is the company compliant with the rules and regulations in the use of drones? Is it commercially licensed and familiar with all of the latest Transport Canada regulations? Does the operator have the knowledge to file a flight plan as per the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC)? What is the company’s liability coverage? Are the photo files produced yours exclusively?
Now, with recent advancements in high definition cameras, filters and safety features, the natural development in the utilization for these craft in turfcare management is beginning to take flight.
An upstart, Boston based company, GreenSight Agronomics, has plans to revolutionize the turf management and agronomic fields. Launched in 2015 by American aerospace specialists, the company identified an opportunity for an easily manageable aerial imaging and data collection service.
Following GreenSight’s successful beta test with eight American golf facilities, the company launched its drone technology with Victoria Golf and Country Club, becoming the first in Canada to utilize its services.
Paul Robertson, Links Superintendent stated: “I started with a program to improve our water management programs. However, I quickly found a number of secondary benefits…and what I feel is most important – leveraging your time more effectively and providing piece of mind.”
Jon Smith, Course Superintendent at Mississaugua Golf and Country Club has recently incorporated a UAV technology program. “It is invaluable in its ability to capture images and data providing a lot of value to our course. In the next five years I can see every club, if affordable, having a drone program.”
GreenSight estimates an investment of approximately $1,000 – $2000.00 per month based on a six-month minimum. For this fee the company provides the drone, cameras, base receiver, software processing, and web access and data storage. A day on site for installation, creation of the flight plan, test flights and personnel training is included.
Robertson estimates his saving on water at the Victoria Golf and Country Club varies between 10-25 per cent annually and fertilizer and pesticides $30-$50,000.
“But the actual dollars saved really depends on the budget. Our water, fertilizer and pesticides total over $300,000 so my savings will be close to $50,000 annually. This does not include $10-$20,000 on labour savings.”
Remote sensing with sophisticated camera sensors; infrared, red-edge, thermal and multispectral lens are proving valuable tools in the detection of turf grass disease and insect infestation – before it is even visible to the eye; optimizing fertilizer use and minimizing costs for fungal damage; shade patterns on fairways and greens; foot and cart traffic to reroute travel corridors and assisting tree management pruning programs, are many of the occasions that a UAV might be a solution.
“The use of the drone is endless,” says Mark Prieur superintendent at Trafalgar Golf and Country Club in Milton, Ontario. His ability to discover frost on the course allows him to tweet this information to the members to indicate a delay in tee times. Prieur even trains his staff, with an aerial view, on how to properly rake a bunker and establish his staking pattern.
Contemplating the introduction of an aerial drone to your golf course maintenance program? The following information should assist you with the interview process for a reliable operator.
A commercial operator must hold an SFOC certificate issued by Transport Canada. It is important to note that pilots and operators are identified uniquely by Transport Canada. A pilot working for the contractor or an employee of your property is not necessarily the liable party in case of a mishap.
When interviewing a potential operator ensure he or she is aware of the following procedures. Flight applications must be submitted to Transport Canada at least twenty working days prior to the proposed date of initial operation:
- The name and contact information of the applicant;
- The name and address of the person designated by the applicant to have operational control over the UAV system;
- The method by which the operator may be contacted directly during operation;
- The type and purpose of the operation;
- The dates, alternate dates and times of the proposed operation;
- A complete description, including all pertinent flight data on the aircraft to be flown;
- The security plan for the area(s) of operation and the area(s) to be overflown to ensure no hazard is created to persons or property on the surface;
- The emergency contingency plan to deal with any disaster resulting from the operation;
- The name of the person designated to be responsible for supervision of the operation area during the operation, if different from the operator;
- A detailed plan describing how the operation will be carried out which must include a clear, legible presentation of the area to be used during the operation;
- This presentation must include, among other information, the altitudes and routes to be used while carrying out the operation and the planned take-off and landing locations;
- The insurance coverage carried by the applicant;
- Any other information pertinent to the safe conduct of the operation.
According to a senior Transport Canada official, the department is adamant that for all commercial applications operators must have an SFOC certificate. Operational criteria, such as altitude limits, airspace limitations and horizontal clearances are generally fixed as per the application but safety is the key word. The operator’s ability to show the revised flight plan will minimize risk and should provide some leeway in the approval process.
If an operator is not able to comply or requires amendment to the rules, he or she is required to fill in the form: Full Application Non-Fixed Criteria – UAV application Form.
Recent government rules that were recently introduced on ‘lawful’ flight are for recreational use and the rules and regulations governing business services are part of the comprehensive SFOC application. Ensure your contractor has an up to date SFOC certificate. They must be renewed annually.
Palmerston, Ontario based AG Business & Crop Inc., Canada’s leader in the use of drone technology for agriculture has a motto: “You Cannot Manage What You Can’t Measure.”
Felix Weber, CEO, considered one of Canada’s most knowledgeable individuals on commercial UAVs stated: “There is tremendous potential for remote sensing in agriculture and the benefits for turfgrass operations has an exciting future.”
Murray Hunt from High Eye Aerial Imaging says: “Technology is being developed right now that will allow a robotic UAV to complete the task entirely without human intervention, on a pre-programmed schedule.”
Incorporation of UAVs into a course’s business plan is a direction that many Canadian facilities should consider. The applications and benefits seem infinite.
Maintaining quality-playing conditions for the enjoyment of golfers is still the primary responsibility of superintendents. Get over it! Just might be the way to go!
Michael Cunningham is a freelance business, golf and travel writer based in Calgary, Alberta. He is the owner of a DJI Phantom 4 and has successfully completed his SFOC Certification. www.golfandtravelwriter.com