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March 2018

New USGA Tool Tracks Play, Pays Dividends


A lot of course owners look down on national organizations with indifference, in part because they wonder what this or that association is doing to help them. A million-dollar marketing campaign to draw awareness to slow play, while nice, doesn’t help the average course owner fill his Tuesday tee sheet or keep labor costs under control.

Those feelings among the rank and file have not gone unnoticed in Far Hills, New Jersey. In recent years the USGA has taken a much more assertive role in helping operators cope with real-world problems. The USGA-LPGA Girls’ Golf initiative, for example, has been one of the most successful beginner programs in history, boosting entry-level participation among junior girls to record highs.

Now the USGA is taking its efforts to another level with an initiative called “Driving Golf Forward,” which provides hand’s-on, in-the-trenches operational help for course owners. The most immediate and possibly most dramatic impact will come from the USGA’s newResource Management Tool.

For lack of a better description, the Resource Management Tool is a computer modeling program that identifies the highest and lowest traffic areas of golf courses and shows owners how much they will save by tailoring water and maintenance costs in those areas. If, for example, a bunker is rarely in play, the tool will show the owner how much can be saved by taking it out. If there is an area of the course where no one is playing, the USGA will show how to utilize natural grasses or ground covers to cut back on water and labor.

“It’s even more intuitive than that,” says Matt Pringle (above), who heads the USGA Resource Management Team. “You might have an area that you’re maintaining as fairway but the tool shows you that nobody goes there. So you might want to convert it to low-maintenance rough. With a drop-down box on your computer you can convert that area from fairway to rough, and then either using your own data or aggregate data that we supply, you will instantly see what that change means in terms of dollars, hours of labor, gallons of water, nutrient application...everything.”

For courses that sign up, the USGA will send “loggers,” small GPS devices about the size of memory sticks, that will map where golfers go on the course. “We like to get it to 200 people,” Pringle says of the loggers. “That allows you to get it in the hands of men and women, long hitters and short hitters, walkers and riders, a good mix.”

It also provides a large enough sample size to extrapolate data. “You need an assistant pro handing out these tiny loggers on the first tee,” Pringle says. “Then you collect them after the round, put them in a box and send them to the USGA. We’ll map out the patterns for you. It’s really neat.”

While it is in beta testing now and no definitive date has been announced for wide distribution, the system will be available to all who request it once it goes online. After it’s in place, the mapping information will be returned to operators within days.

“I’m really excited for the potential of this tool,” says course architect Any Staples, who is using it to help in the redesign of Dairy Creek Golf Course in San Luis Obispo, California. “This information can be used to understand what areas of the course should be prioritized by management and identify other areas that can be minimized or even eliminated from everyday maintenance.”

In other words, it’s a tool that can provide tangible, real-world savings, quickly. Pringle says that based on beta-test results, “More than 100 golf course owners have made data-driven decisions
in the last several months.”

One beta tester, superintendent Mark Krick at Fox Hollow Golf Course in Colorado, adds: “Eliminating unused bunkers and converting unused areas to rough will result in substantial savings. Bottleneck areas will be addressed with subtle design changes, the costs of which are easy to justify. The benefits will save money, improve pace of play and ultimately result in a more enjoyable round of golf”.

—Steve Eubanks


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