Design Professionals at Work: Solving a Course Problem Using GPS Technology

With increasing pressure on golf course managers to curb excessive water use, and with golf operators in drought-stricken areas having to resort to creative means to do so, new ideas are always welcome. And a design professional gets the credit for the most innovative one so far.

According to an article in SportTechie, the USGA offers a GPS service to help courses track golfer movements in order to improve pace of play. Knowing how long rounds actually take and what holes are bottlenecks helps to create schedules for tee times that work more efficiently.

Golf course architect and designer John Sanford had already created a preliminary plan to aid Florida’s Crandon Park in reducing natural turf and making the course more sustainable and to him, it naturally followed that GPS tracking could enhance that effort. After all, finding out where people walked and played – and where they didn’t – could be an excellent way of knowing where turf was really needed.

Sanford, owner of Sanford Golf Design, and Crandon Park went to work, using the USGA’s GPS module. Golfers voluntarily carried GPS tags around the course over several weeks, creating data on which areas of the course had heavy traffic, and which were rarely, if ever, used.

At the end of the testing period, Sanford was able to create a heat map that showed areas of varying use. Ultimately, he found a total of 40 acres of turf (out of a total acreage of 130) that could be removed, which would cut about 30 percent ($350,000) from the annual irrigation bill.

The turf to be removed will be replaced by materials such as crushed stone or drought-resistant native plants; local materials play a large part in the

An additional consideration in the reduction plans is how to replace the turf. (Simply allowing grass to die off could lead to a weed invasion.) At the Crandon course, Sanford has recommended the installation of crushed stone and several plantings. He emphasizes the use of local materials that will enhance or at least not detract from the aesthetics and playability.

As more courses move toward a more sustainable future – both environmentally and economically – count on this technology to come into increasing use.

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