Yes, the PGA Championship got underway this morning. And while more average Joes are projected to watch the second Major this year than in years past, there are two huge reasons they aren’t actually playing more golf: It’s expensive and takes too long. Which is why the United States Golf Association is using technology to try and remedy both obstacles. In fact, officials have already made progress at two popular courses in America, using a “heatmap” process. Ironically, it has nothing to do with temperature.
How it works: USGA reps distribute computer chips — coined GPS data loggers — to golfers that they wear on their body for their golf round. Typically, this happens over three days, during the course’s busiest times when play is likely slow. Those loggers record the golfer’s physical location every five seconds. Data collected from all golfers is displayed on the USGA Facility app as a traffic “heatmap” and is essentially superimposed over the course map, so that officials can see exactly how golfers use the course. The software also relays other data to course managers. By analyzing the data, officials can see exactly where golfers go — and perhaps more importantly where they don’t go on course.
Data collected at Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne (Florida) was used to inform a master plan that called for the elimination of 40-plus-acres of turf – parts of the course where golfers rarely went. As a result, 20 acres are being converted to natural crushed stone, 12.5 to naturalized plantings and eight to aquatic plantings. Once completed, this 30 percent reduction in irrigated turf will save an expected $350,000 per year in water costs. And to boot, both the visual aesthetics and playing conditions will be vastly improved. The potential trickle-down effect? If a course can save that much money, it will pass the savings down to golfers in the form of less-expensive green fees and membership dues.
Across the country at the very popular Rancho Park Golf Course in Los Angeles, “the golf experience was being impacted by long wait times on the first tee,” says Scott Mingay, the director of product development at the USGA. “Golfers were complaining not just about the long rounds, but also that they were teeing off (on the first hole) 40 minutes late. With use of our GPS service, the course was able to identify optimal tee time intervals that virtually eliminated the wait on the first tee and reduced round times.”
Mingay says the USGA has been using GPS loggers at more than 100 courses since 2014, primarily for research. It all “helps facilities understand golfer interaction at their course, and how resources are being consumed,” he adds. “The facility sees how much water is being applied to any playing surface, or how many hours are being used to rake an individual bunker. Having this level of detail combined with golfer behavior allows them to identify what the resource, cost and experience impact will be of any proposed changes…This information allows them to identify areas that can be potentially converted into lower-maintenance profiles — labor, irrigation, fertilizer, fuel, etc. — that are cheaper to maintain without sacrificing the golfer experience…Also, players want to hit from healthy, well-maintained grass. The GPS service allows facility managers to allocate their resources to the highest-traffic areas; they can focus on the turf that their customers hit from the most. And the quality of this turf has a direct impact on the golfer experience.”