Man’s obsession with flight has been evident since long before the Wright brothers took their first powered flight in 1903. Since then many different methods have been used to ‘best’ capture the essence of golf courses from the air ranging from Hot air balloons, hanging out of helicopters to cameras strapped to remote control aircraft. Although some of the results have produced stunning imagery they often date quickly and are no ‘practical’ use in the long term to the club or its members.
With the improvements in aerial imagery and in particular unmanned drone technology Course Manager and BIGGA BB&O secretary Matthew Nutter from East Berkshire wanted to investigate how seeing the course from the air using an accurate, up to date aerial picture could help him assist and manage the estate. After researching companies who provide imagery Matthew employed the services of PinPoint Golf a company who specialise in golf course mapping and surveys to carry out the drone flight. The company also supply training on easy to use course management software which allows users to draw on the map, print off sections and measure areas and straight lines on the ground.
The drone flight produced a fully geo referenced ortho image, in basic terms it’s a fully GPS’d map of the golf course and estate. The image is produced typically at a 5cm resolution meaning the detail is incredible and the accuracy of measurement is better than you would ever need. It creates a living course policy document and a record of the golf course as of the day it was flown that can evolve in future years.
“The first thing that impresses you is the clarity of what you are dealing with” said Matthew “Most of us have used existing online maps when we’ve had to but we know that when you scroll in close you lose any detail”
The main key benefits that Matthew was looking to glean from the exercise was to review cutting lines and shapes from the air and to be able to measure areas that had been raising questions from the membership: areas of long fescue rough, distances of carries from tee to fairway, heather plantations and areas ear marked for further heather establishment. The software allows accurate measurements around the tees fairways, greens and bunkers and then creates a spread sheet of the surface areas of all of the key features of the course. This will offer savings by being able to accurately measure to order the correct amount of sand, fertiliser and dressing etc. He can also map sprinkler heads, drainage and irrigation to aid continuity should there ever be a change in personnel.
The image and software can also help settle future disputes from “is the green smaller than it used to be?” to “I’m sure this fairway used to be wider” you’ll always have an answer based on this is how the golf course when it was flown in June 2013
Matthew and the team at East Berkshire had finished a successful course renovation programme when the aerial was taken but any proposed course changes can be helped as the image gives the best possible view of how the hole looks now and the impact of any proposed changes. It also enables areas to be measured for the impact on turf purchase etc.
The process really helps you understand what space you have and how best to utilise it from boundary issues to land purchase. An accurate record of your course from the sky is invaluable. This has been particularly useful when making presentations to committee’s and Board members with regard to proposed projects. As Matthew commented “it’s hard to argue with a detailed image showing the exact areas concerned and proposed changes” The software package allows future updated work i.e. drainage, irrigation changes and general ground works to be added to the mapping. This allows a consistent and accurate record of the course and completes the final part of a meaningful Course Policy Document.
So what about the pretty picture? The part that is not directly important to the greens team? Presentation is key – As part of the package provided by Pin Point the golf club are supplied with a picture of the course and estate – whether it be for course maps, to posters for use in the office or green committee meetings to individual hole images for your website, marketing and course guides. It’s a fantastic way of showing off the golf clubs most prized asset. This is an area the club have been keen to utilise and enhance and provided a key selling point to the Board. It means the imagery goes further than just a picture and offers further value to the business.
In summary Matthew added “we finally have a tool that as a course manager I can put to a practical use. If it was just a pretty picture it would be little use to me at all but thanks to the accuracy of the image combined with the ease of use of the software I’m using it all the time. And the more I use it the more useful it becomes for others as a living breathing record of my golf course”
When drones with cameras were invented it wasn’t to benefit the management of golfing estates and to beautify golf courses but for those that have used it in that way and have seen the benefits it certainly has created an incredibly useful by-product.
Golf was first played on the East Berks course in 1903 the same year the Wright brothers took to the sky. Maybe this work was fate!