2017 Golfdom Report: Destined for drones?

By and |  January 25, 2017 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 3.30.05 PMOnly 40 percent of readers think a bird’s-eye-view of the course might be in their future.

Another hot topic in Golfdom has been the use of drones on golf courses to better help maintenance teams identify areas of stress. Drone technology was the subject of the October 2016 cover story (“The Sky is the Limit” by David McPherson) and we’ve seen presentations from researchers such as Bill Kreuser, Ph.D., at the University of Nebraska and our own Clark Throssell, Ph.D., touting the technology.

But readers for the most part aren’t ready to buy in. Of the 500-plus respondents, only 5 percent “planned on” using a drone on their course, while 34 percent remained open to the idea. However, 61 percent essentially told us to go fly a kite before flying a drone over their course.

R. Sean Reehoorn, superintendent at Aldarra GC in Sammamish, Wash., is in the 61 percent skeptical of the value of adding the cost of a drone or a drone service to his maintenance budget.

“The biggest question for me is, ‘How do I use it, and how much of it is for fun and how is it for work?’” Reehoorn asks. “With NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) technology and GPS spraying, you know mixing all of this together is great, but taking that information and making it real and usable is the most difficult part. I think you need to have people who know what they are doing and can teach you how to use it. It’s hard. How do you make it real?”

Reehoorn believes the technology will become more valuable to him once the price comes down and pesticides become more restricted because he’ll need to know the exact areas that need to be sprayed.

But Colin Seaberg, CGCS at Barton Hills CC in Ann Arbor, Mich., is in that rare 5 percent: He already owns a drone and proudly flies it as his course regularly.

“We are about to start a major project on the day after Labor Day next fall. We bought one for a couple of reasons,” Seaberg says. “First, my greens chair wanted to get one as a marketing tool to take some picturesque photos of the course to add to the website. We also bought it in hopes of using it for progress report updates, and to take different photos of the project.”

He adds that he also checks the way the rough is looking from up high, and likes having the different angles.

“It is a great investment for us because I bought the best piece of technology I could at the time, but we’re going to get a lot of use out of it over the next two years (with the project),” Seaberg says. “My advice to someone thinking about it is to just buy one to have it, because you will find uses for it.”

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