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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64 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 03.17 Given the early version of the system and its unique proximity to manned aircraft, Rob - ertson is more hands-on than a typical cus- tomer will be. "We met with Nav Canada and Transport Canada to clear all this. We secured a special flight operations certificate after detailing when we're flying, why we're flying and who is in charge, emergency contact info, etc. They emailed back and said they wanted to see spe - cific flight paths. So we provided that," Rob- ertson says. "Eventually we agreed that we'd only fly between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., which turned out to be best for everyone. I noticed early in the training that when you're out with the re - mote, members stop you all the time and ask what you're doing. I got interrupted 20 times in 20 minutes — and it's hard to keep your eyes on the drone. So, it's better to fly first thing in the morning. I can stay ahead of the golfers and don't get interrupted." Changing requirements Many superintendents have invested in and trained themselves in amateur drone operations — as have other commercial enti - ties that have been entering the golf course management market — and much has been written about the practical legalities related to privacy and liability. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in August issued a series of rulings related to amateur and pro - fessional use of these drones, including a reg- istration process ( www.federaldroneregistra ). All of this was good news for GreenSight — the stigma and questions surrounding widespread drone use in the U.S. are clearly dissipating. Indeed, the company's subscrip - tion approach makes it that much easier for superintendents specifically, as whatever re - strictions and registrations remain are in- cluded in the company's service package. "We are operating 100 percent within the legal framework for drone operations," McClellan reports. "We have authorization from the FAA to operate our drones over golf courses. More important for superintendents, all legal responsibility for the drone flights rests with GreenSight. What's more, GreenSight and our drone system are insured for injury, death or damage to property caused by the equipment under proper usage. By offering a subscription, we offload all that from the user." Through the end of 2016, FAA require - ments obliged someone to watch the drone take off each morning. That requirement is expected to be phased out in 2017 as Green - Sight's waivers are approved. "Some might be intimidated," Robertson says, "but I can't say enough about the guys at GreenSight. They walked us through all as - pects of the program, and setup was easy. In two days, we were flying. If there's any prob - lem with the drone, they can log on in real time. Typically, we phone in at 6 a.m. when we set up; we watch it take off and we all watch it fly in real time. If they see problems, they can tell us or fix it remotely. "We haven't had any crashes. But this is where the subscription service makes sense. We don't own the drone, so if it did crash, they would replace it." Predictable practicality It's instructive to listen to Robertson talk about all the information he has gathered from just the first two months of spectro - graphic imagery. But it's eye-opening to listen to McClellan and Kaminski talk about just how primitive Robertson's first-generation system is. This year, the trial program will expand to include a thermal camera, giv - ing GreenSight, Kaminski and all trial users more information, analytics and expertise to work with. The next iteration of the system will include thermal cameras that measure leaf temperature. "There's some math involved there, but we can then make the jump to soil moisture measurements based on the amount a plant is sweating. The more it sweats, the more mois - ture in the root zone," McClellan says. The holy grail here is disease prediction — or, rather, a reading of this imagery that is nuanced and reliable enough to allow superin - tendents to see something coming and head it off at the pass. "I can look at someone's course and see how fairy ring moves through the course. I think when you get into predictive models for diseases, it will take more work — but we'll get there," Kaminski says. "When we've inte - grated this technology with weather systems, we will start picking up stuff in advance, espe - cially with the aid of these new cameras. The pythium problems we've been dealing with (last summer) — I'm pretty sure if we'd been flying these courses, we'd have caught it early. Eventually, we will see the patterns." With predictable practicality, Robert - son is not merely awaiting his thermal cam- era — he's thinking about making his drone project the subject of serious agronomic study and, maybe, earning another advanced degree along the way. "I'm not sure yet how the Ph.D. will dovetail, but the club has approved it, and Dr. Hsiang (Tom Hsiang, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at Ontario's University of Guelph) has approved it in prin - ciple," Robertson says. "But I've got to decide if I'm going to do it or not. I just got my mas - ter's three years ago. I'm a little gun shy about getting back into the school thing right away." Hal Phillips is the managing director of golf and resorts for Mandarin Media, a public relations firm with offices in Portland, Maine; Park City, Utah; and Saigon, Vietnam. He is the former editor of Golf Course News. Victoria GC is a seaside course that is the oldest in Canada that still sits on its original site, having first opened for play in 1893.

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