Early detection reduces treatment time 96% at Florida golf course

What can it do for you?

Golf is a sport of precision; every stroke counts. Because of this, a healthy, uniform green isn’t just a matter of good aesthetics—it is an integral part of the game.

Drone technology helps golf course superintendents spot problems on the green before they become visible and address them proactively without players ever noticing.

In Florida, drones have been able to identify green maintenance issues early and reduce treatment times by up to 96 percent.

We caught up with him to talk about this, and to hear about a recent situation in which drone technology helped a private golf club in Florida identify and treat leaf spot and a sprinkler leak before either problem affected the green.

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Orthomosaic map showing a full swing range and 9-holes, part of two 18-hole courses at a golf club in Florida. Drone technology was able to detect turf health problems before they became visible to the naked eye.

 

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Orange areas in the Turf.Solutions map pictured above show signs of underlying stress that need to be investigated on the ground level.

Players count on golf course superintendents to keep greens healthy and consistent so that they can enjoy the best green speeds and performance. But keeping greens healthy is no small feat. If maintenance staff can spot damage from an irrigation problem or a fungus with the naked eye, that usually means the problem has already become significant and may take weeks to fully correct.

“By the time you see it, it’s often too late,” says Stephen Myers, founder of Naples, Florida-based Angel Eyes UAV. This leaves members with a less-than-optimal course and can spell trouble for a club’s reputation.

Like SkeyeKing in Canada, Angel Eyes UAV uses a drone-mounted multispectral sensor to collect images golf courses processed through Turf Solutions, leading-edge golf-course analytical software that puts action-focused tools in the hands of golf course superintendents.

“What I like about Turf.Solutions is the ability to not only get our modified NDVI (Non Differentiated Vegetation Index, a tool commonly used in agriculture to identify plant stress) with the pre-defined algorithm, but also the ability to use the custom ‘slider’ to become more granular and look at specific wavelengths of reflectance. This is the only platform I know of that offers that combination of flexibility.”

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In the near-infrared imagery (above left), an orange section at the top left corner indicates stressed vegetation that turned out to be an early stage of leaf fungus.

The information Angel Eyes UAV gathered showed several areas of possible concern. The first, seen in the picture above, was a large section of turf next to a cart path. In near-infrared imagery the section appeared orange, indicating stressed vegetation. When golf course staff visited the area on foot, it looked healthy, but additional tests revealed the presence of leaf spot, a fungus that lives in the soil and eventually spreads to grass leaves, causing brown spots and ultimately thinning the turf.

Without the use of drone technology, maintenance staff most likely wouldn’t have discovered the fungus until they saw brown spots on the green. At that stage, it takes up to eight weeks of consistent fungicide applications to eradicate it, all the while leaving a compromised green for players. But thanks to the information gathered using Turf.Solutions, the staff was able to detect the leaf spot at a very early stage and get rid of it with a less intensive treatment. They fully resolved the issue in just two days — 96 percent faster than if they hadn’t used drones.

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In the near-infrared imagery (above left) an orange area next to the cart path shows signs of stressed vegetation. Faulty drainage was causing too much water to be diverted to one area of the green.

 During the same drone flight, Angel Eyes UAV made another important discovery: a small area of stress on the green that didn’t seem to be related to the leaf spot fungus. It turned out to be the result of faulty drainage, which caused some areas of the green to get too much water and other areas to get too little.

A small section of faulty drainage might not seem like a big problem, but on a golf course in drought-stricken Florida, it is. A course of this size uses 900,000 gallons of water per day to keep its greens healthy. Rationing due to draught means the course has access to only 155,000 gallons per day. When the course is operating at 15 percent  of its ideal water capacity, every drop counts.

In the case of the Florida golf course, early detection of the problem meant the club not only saved the affected turf from dying, but it maximized the use of its already scarce water resources.