Flying high in the Hamptons: GreenSight Agronomics gives Shinnecock Hills a bird’s eye view of its turf

By |  June 19, 2018 0 Comments
Vanden Bosch displays the GreenSight Agronomics drone

Shinnecock Hills Assistant-in-Training Mike Vanden Bosch gives us a closer look at the GreenSight Agronomics drone.

As one of the five founding clubs of the USGA, Shinnecock Hills has a storied past.

But when it came time to prepare for the U.S. Open, Jon Jennings, CGCS, and his team turned to some pretty cutting-edge turf technology to get the course in top condition.

“We started using a technology with a drone. It’s called GreenSight Agronomics. We do a drone flight each morning over the golf course, and it monitors plant health and soil moisture,” says Jennings.

“It’s kind of like a body scan,” he explains. “You look at it and you’ll see how you’re trending, and analyze if there are any problematic areas you want to address.”

Jennings told Golfdom that Mike Vanden Bosch, assistant-in-training, pilots the drone each morning, around 5 or 6 a.m. After a 15- to 20-minute drone flight 290 feet above the golf course, Vanden Bosch connects to the GreenSight server in Massachusetts and then, around noon, GreenSight provides a map of the whole course.

The GreenSight technology offers three views: a regular visual of the golf course, a thermal view which displays soil temperature and NDVI imagery, which offers a more in depth look at the health of the turf.

“We’ve been flying for the last 3 or 4 weeks,” explains Vanden Bosch. For the week of the U.S. Open, he flew the drone at 5:30 a.m. most mornings to capture the conditions on the golf course.

He notes that the data is especially helpful in determining which areas of the golf course are in need of irrigation, and which areas are stressed from traffic. “We already know what the greens are doing since we’re on them all the time. It’s more helpful for fairways and seeing trends as far as the entire golf course is concerned,” he says.

Since it’s been a cool spring so far, the thermal view hasn’t been a huge factor, but as the temperatures start to rise, the maintenance team will look at that data more closely. “Once it’s peak season, July and August, the thermal cam will be a little bit more useful,” Vanden Bosch says. “For example, if it’s July and it’s 90 degrees, we can look if we need to run fairway heads or not. Obviously, we’re not going to probe every inch of this fairway – but with this, we can know how the fairways are doing as a whole.”

The technology does have some drawbacks – such as being unable to fly in the rain. The famous Shinnecock winds also do a number on the drone, according to Vanden Bosch.

“I think 12-13 mph (winds) are kind of our cutoff point,” he says. “When we fly at that wind speed, it’s kind of hard on the drone… and we’re fighting the wind in all directions almost the whole way.”

The Shinnecock Hills team is already looking ahead to how GreenSight can help the next time they host the U.S. Open.

“This is good for us, because we’re in the U.S. Open right now, and we can give this information to USGA,” says Vanden Bosch. “And then in 2026, they can decide if they like this set up.”

Stay tuned to learn more about GreenSight Agronomics in a future issue of Golfdom.

Photos: Abby Hart

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