Golf Course Management

MAR 2017

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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60 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 03.17 The big turf disease issues at seaside Vic- toria GC, according to Robertson, are micro- dochium patch in winter and anthracnose in summer. Over last summer, Robertson and Creamer crafted operations in hopes of seeing where focused spot-treatment programs would lead to color changes in the drone photogra - phy. By this spring, he hopes to have enough data to detect soil temperature and moisture levels, "to take our irrigation practices to the next level." "To be honest, that's why we bought in — to tailor our irrigation," Robertson says. "We'd love to eliminate the soil probing, but that's just labor. Our water costs are $80,000 to $100,000 a year, and water rates in our part of the world are increasing rapidly. I can see a potential 20 percent savings in water. Re - ductions in pesticides, fertilizer and labor are secondary benefits. For example, if we can re - duce pesticide applications through spot treat- ments, we could save an additional $10,000 to $20,000 annually, and it's the right thing to do." 'Creating the science' GreenSight Agronomics is Boston-based and staffed almost exclusively with former de - fense contractors whose expertise was honed deploying reconnaissance drones in Afghan - istan. Justin McClellan, for example, the company's chief marketing officer, holds a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from Boston University, along with an MBA. Before forming GreenSight, he led a recon - naissance satellite research and development program for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense. McClellan reports that pilot programs like Robertson's are currently underway at Des - ert Mountain in Arizona, two "high-profile private clubs" on Long Island that requested anonymity, and Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., in addition to a pair of ag - rochemical company test sites. The results, he says, have been striking, but it's important not to outrun the scientific process or the evolv - ing technology. "It's tricky because no one has done this before," McClellan says. "When we start look - ing for aerial evidence of fairy ring with a ther- mal camera, we can't just research existing sci- ence. We're creating the science here, and it can be a slow process. "Our pilot customers like Paul are get - ting in early on this," he says, adding that a thermal camera to accurately measure turf temperature was slated to be introduced by the end of 2016, when as many as 30 early- monitoring, and we were thinking, 'There has got to be a better way.'" Then T-Jay saw a post on Twitter about GreenSight Agronomics' autonomous drone program. "It would map everything — every day — and shoot the course with all sorts of different cameras," says Robertson. "I thought, 'This is interesting.'" Bird's-eye view Six months later, Robertson and Victoria GC joined five other facilities to become a main pilot site for GreenSight's first-genera - tion drone system. Two months after he began "flying," Robertson saw the potential to not only relieve his staff of daily soil probing, but also to provide a daily bird's-eye view of the entire golf course. The drone's near-infrared and red-edge cameras, which spotlight chlo - rophyll, highlight all the places on the course where turf health has been compromised. "We are speculating, but compaction seems to be most evident in the early im - ages," Robertson reports. "These areas are under more stress than the rest of the turf. If you look at rock formations or edges of cart paths, they are bright red. You see the same color on the walk-off areas of greens. I sus - pect compaction is reducing soil-pore space, decreasing soil oxygen and reducing water penetration. That's very hard to see from the ground across the entire course. However, after a 20-minute flight, it is obvious we have a problem." Spectrographic imagery data recorded by the drone is overlaid on a map of the golf course to illustrate everything from dry areas and compaction to areas that might be susceptible to disease.

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