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September 2019

Getting A Bird’s Eye View

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Agronomy Technology Flying High At Ravenna

By Steve Eubanks

It’s all about efficiencies and finding the right tools to manage costs while maximizing the experience.” 

That was how Kevin Collins, the general manager at The Club at Ravenna, a 634-acre private resort development by the Platte River in Littleton, Colorado, south of Denver, described the technology his course has employed. Located in the high-desert region of the country where snowfall can come as early as September and the heat can reach a dry, scorching 100 degrees in July, the staff at Ravenna is constantly battling extremes. But they have found a way to use technology to get the job done without breaking the bank.  

The two biggest advances are a pin locator software program and a drone that looks like something out of a spy movie. 

First, the drone. Through a company called GreenSight, Ravenna has a daily fly-over from what appears to be a standard multi-propeller drone, the sort of things kids fly every Christmas and real estate developers use to market land. But rather than simply taking photos or GoPro videos of the property – the traditional uses for such technology – these drones are equipped with infrared cameras that map heat and moisture in the soil.

“We get daily plant-health images,” said Steve Datwyler, the superintendent at Ravenna. 

“It takes me about 10 minutes to scan the entire golf course. That helps save on labor. We have become much more economical because of it.”  

The drone costs about $30 a day, which looks like an annualized investment of $11,000, a price tag that would jab some owners in the flinch point. But when you estimate the cost of employees driving around checking for hot spots or attempting to see plant stress with the naked eye – a process that could take several hours – the savings become obvious. Plus, infrared technology is better than most human eyes.

“We have far-infrared and near-infrared,” Datwyler said. “It can show hot areas and cool areas. If we see a cool area immediately adjacent to a hot area, it could tell me that the cool area is getting too much water and that’s causing the turf to decline. You can spot hot spots on a green and make decisions pretty quick. If I’m in the office for 10 minutes and can scan the entire golf course without having to ride around, that’s a huge savings.”
 
The other piece of the technology puzzle at Ravenna is ezLocator, pin placement software that customizes topographical maps and identifies a wide range of hole locations to maximize green usage and minimize traffic wear. The software selects exact hole placements based on a wide range of data points including weather and traffic, and it mixes the locations so that the Tuesday pins are rarely in the same places two weeks in a row.    
“We always have the same people cutting pins so it has improved our accuracy,” Datwyler said. “We have also eliminated any re-dos. There is no going back and re-cutting pins. The software locates the pins for you and the higher the stimpmeter goes, the farther from the edge it will cut the holes.”

It also automatically tracks previous hole locations and will let the superintendent know how frequently one location is being used over another.

In addition to pre-printed pin sheets, there is also an app that members or guests can download to get exact hole locations. The software is not that expensive and while it initially sounds like a luxury item, it is a lot less expensive than losing a portion of a green due to high-traffic compaction. And it eliminates potential mistakes from a staff member who might cut a hole on a slope.

“Our membership is raving about it,” Datwyler said. “We are seeing hole locations we’ve never used before. The software is maximizing our useable green surfaces and managing traffic extremely efficiently. I set up a week’s worth of hole locations in five minutes and then ezLocator does its thing. We are all very pleased with the holes it’s selecting. The golf staff is thrilled with the daily pin sheets. It would also integrate to GPS but we don’t have GPS on the carts.”  

These two small technology investments provide two services that are immeasurable at Ravenna. Not only are labor costs more manageable because of the tech, but ending potential turf problems before they occur make these tools a near must-have.

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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