Advancing the Game

Written by Hunki Yun


Ever since the first shepherds swatted at rocks with their crooks, golf has followed a trajectory of innovation. For much of the game’s history, most of the innovations have focused on the playing of the game itself: teaching the game to golfers, the equipment used by players and the grounds on which they play.

But in the early years of the 21st century, the industry requires new modes of thinking in order to approach the game as a business, impacting the way facilities – private clubs, daily fee courses, municipal facilities – make decisions and pursue increased productivity and efficiency in order to increase the financial viability of golf course and secure the future of the game.

The USGA’s strategic plan includes a commitment to advance the game, and we have set a goal of a 25 percent reduction of critical resources – such as water, fuel and labor – that are used in maintaining golf courses. The USGA introduced this challenge statement during the North American Golf Innovation Symposium, which took place in Vancouver, British Columbia in March 2017.

The Symposium covered many topics in the areas of research, science and technology related to golf facilities. One of the highlights was the introduction of Resource Management, a web-based tool that provides exact data about how maintenance budgets are spent on the course. The product will help facilities measure and allocate their finite resources more effectively and make smarter decisions without an adverse effect on golfers.

The engine of USGA Resource Management is a fully customizable map and dashboard, which users can populate with the inputs, boundaries and maintenance practices in place at their courses. The tool’s algorithm can calculate the cost of maintaining specific areas of the course – a single hole, the fourth fairway, all the greens, the fairway bunker on the 17th hole, etc.

By adding, editing or deleting features in the map, it is possible to calculate the financial implications of potential changes to the course design or maintenance levels. Whether you’re thinking about converting portions of your course to native areas, adding teeing grounds or removing bunkers, USGA Resource Management can calculate the potential return on investment.

All these options are being considered at golf facilities around the country, but these decisions are often made without fully considering how they will impact golfers. USGA Resource Management allows for the overlay of golfer heat maps on top of the course map so you can see the areas that most impact golfers and – more importantly – identify the areas that rarely come into play.

The USGA employs inexpensive GPS loggers to collect data about golfer tracks and behavior, an area that has the potential to yield benefits and innovations in numerous areas of facility management and golfer experience, from pace of play to course setup to course design. No doubt, the more data we can collect, the more insights we can glean.

When used within the Resource Management platform, the heat maps produced by the GPS loggers allow for the presentation of easy-to-visualize scenarios that expedite the process of making decisions that reduce or reallocate resources without negatively impacting golfer experience.

In addition, the USGA is looking to add potential features such as an advanced weather dashboard that provides guidance for maintenance tasks; the ability to track hole locations on the map and print hole-location sheets similar to those used at the U.S. Open; and a pace calculator to model the impact of changes such as tee-time interval, hole lengths and number of players to pace and playing times.

This is the kind of data and technology that is transforming other industries and helping managers to make smarter decisions, both on a daily basis and in strategic planning. These changes are slowly coming to golf, and the USGA is leading the efforts to put them in the hands of those who need them most: facility managers.

Advancing the Game

This article was originally published in the 2018 edition of The Alberta Golfer Magazine. To view the full magazine, click here.

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