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High-flying data at your fingertips

By |  October 20, 2020 0 Comments
Drone ready for launch (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

Photo: Kevin Hauschel

It’s been three days in a row of temperatures in the mid-90s at Meadow Club in Fairfax, Calif. The evapotranspiration rate (ET) on the course has skyrocketed. Kevin Hauschel, superintendent, and Sean Tully, director of grounds, are developing a plan to handle heat stress throughout the property using new technology.

To keep close tabs on conditions, Meadow Club uses a combination of in-ground sensors from Soil Scout, GreenSight’s TurfCloud daily drone service, and Spectrum TDR 350 soil moisture meters.

Every year, the course, designed by Alister Mackenzie, experiences a 4 percent rate increase on water, service fees and any other associated costs with the water, Tully says. He estimates the Meadow Club’s water budget in seven years will reach $400,000 a year.

“We’re trying to minimize our use and maximize its potential,” Tully says.

Introducing technology in the form of in-ground sensors and overhead imagery has helped the course keep water use, diseases and biological and mechanical stress in check, Hauschel says. “We’re not being as reactionary,” he says. “That means we’re not having to apply so much fertilizer and pesticides because we’re staying ahead of issues across the property.”

The subscription costs the club $6,000 for six months, but the return is an annual savings of $35,000 in inputs and water, Hauschel says. He found TurfCloud during a Golf Course Superintendents Association of Northern California’s assistant superintendent boot camp a few years ago. Since then, Meadow Club has worked with TurfCloud to fine-tune what the imagery tells superintendents and understand how to utilize the imagery.

Kevin Hauschel, superintendent of the Meadow Club, uses aerial images to help communicate project updates, like this bunker renovation on the 12th hole, to members. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

Kevin Hauschel, superintendent of the Meadow Club, uses aerial images to help communicate project updates, like this bunker renovation on the 12th hole, to members. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

“I was looking at what tools we can add to the property that are going to give us a return on investment year in and year out but that are also going to aid me in the agronomics and labor
efficiency across the property,” Hauschel says.

This year, GreenSight partnered with Soil Scout, a Finnish company, to help integrate the wireless soil sensors into the cloud-based TurfCloud data platform.

Implementing on the course

Tully estimates each Soil Scout is about the size of a soda can and one-fourth the width of a can. Meadow Club has deployed 18 Soil Scouts, buried about 3 inches deep in most fairways, since fairways are the club’s biggest water user.

Hauschel says he did not put any Soil Scouts in par 3 holes and doubled up sensors on par 5 fairways.

“The footprint is very small,” Tully says. “It’s a quick snapshot. It’s just a quick scan of everything, and we can see that we’re a little wet at 3 inches.”

Hauschel and Tully like that the sensors are easy to move as needed and have a 20-year battery life.

Top: This NDVI image shows how the turf responds when plant growth regulators have been applied. Bottom: This thermal image shows Meadow Club in dry down ahead of the course’s Club Championship. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

Top: This NDVI image shows how the turf responds when plant growth regulators have been applied. Bottom: This thermal image shows Meadow Club in dry down ahead of the course’s Club Championship. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

“We’re still using TDRs on the greens and the fairways,” Tully says. “They all come together and help us shape our programs and day-to-day maintenance and management of the golf course. It’s a broad spectrum look at the golf course in a way that allows us to manage to a level where we’re not pushing too much growth.”

Benefits on the course

Hauschel says he’s able to understand how the turf responds to applications of plant growth regulators and when the PGR effects are starting to wear off with normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) imagery that captures the turf’s vegetative state.

“You’re able to build trends being able to fly five days a week,” he says. “You’re able to see how the golf course is responding day in and day out to the changes you make.”

Hauschel says this can be anything from fertilizer applications by monitoring NDVI imagery to turf recovery from heat stress using thermal imagery. He says he’s able to use the NDVI images to tailor PGR applications using growing degree day data.

Soil Scout’s wireless in-ground sensor system sends salinity, soil temperature and soil moisture to its cloud-based platform. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

Soil Scout’s wireless in-ground sensor system sends salinity, soil temperature and soil moisture to its cloud-based platform. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

“We have been able to keep the grass regulated, which means less mowing, which means less stress on the plant, which means overall healthier turf,” he says. “All of this is the goal of having a tournament-quality course day in and day out for our membership.”

The new system has cut back on the course’s fungicide applications. Only two applications have been made since April.

“Our theory is, if we’re able to control our water and make sure we’re not overwatering or underwatering and inviting disease in, we have the ability to focus on plant health which, in turn, will allow us to back off on fungicide use,” Hauschel says.

Tully and Hauschel say they’ve learned more about the distinct microclimates within the course from the drone flights.

“By putting (the Soil Scouts) in the southwest-facing fairways, we’re able to see an area dry down just a little bit quicker than everything else, and if it’s drying down there, everything else shouldn’t be too far behind,” Tully says.

Other areas might be low lying or get too wet, and being able to isolate historic areas helps the team manage conditions that much closer. Meadow Club overlaps irrigation maps on top of the aerial images from TurfCloud. Hauschel says because of this, crew members often will run out to spots on the course that need hand watering right away.

“We’re not guessing where we’re going anymore,” he says. “We’re not having to poke 30 TDR readings down one fairway with one guy. Being more efficient with our hand watering has allowed us to pull two guys off hand watering and put them back on the golf course doing detail work.”

GreenSight’s drone records images and downloads them to TurfCloud’s platform, which the team can access anywhere at any time. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

GreenSight’s drone records images and downloads them to TurfCloud’s platform, which the team can access anywhere at any time. (Photo: Kevin Hauschel)

Hauschel is quick to point out that there is no reduction of labor with the data he gets from Soil Scout and GreenSight; it’s a redeployment of staff in a more efficient way. TurfCloud’s job board with artificial intelligence built in helps suggest jobs for crew members.

“I am also able to schedule jobs more efficiently as the job board learns my trends and suggests jobs for individuals,” he says.

More data, less stress

Hauschel says a key benefit to having data available at his fingertips is how he can communicate better with Meadow Club’s members. He says this helps the membership understand what he’s doing on the course such as bunker project updates and tree removals.

“They’ve seen how we’ve been able to monitor our water and it makes them more comfortable,” he says. “Our goal as superintendents is not just to be good with taking care of the plant with water and fertility, but we also have a duty to our club to be efficient with money that we’re given.”

The system is good for taking care of plants, but also people. Hauschel says an added bonus is he’s able to work more realistic hours, knowing he’s able to monitor the course from his smartphone and make adjustments as necessary.

“Being able to leave the property and go ‘OK. We’re fine,’ that’s the biggest plus on a personal standpoint,” he says. “I can leave at 3. I used to be out here till 6 or 7 at night hand watering. Your quality of life gets better now that you’re working more of a normal shift.”



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