Remote Sensing & GIS

Birdie's Eye View: Utilizing Drone Data for Golf Course Management

Golf courses can either be a symbol of environmental stewardship or disaster. With sprawling greens of turf grass, fragile and carefully selected plants and trees, and the responsibility of proper chemical application, superintendents are under a great deal of stress and pressure to produce a course that holds up to frequent use. All with a limited budget, resources (including labor) and minimizing environmental impact. The need for reliable, low cost, and high quality environmental data has never been greater.




Let’s examine the economics of golf course management. The first question is, how much time does a crew member spend on each green during a spot inspection, followed by how many inspections does he/she do per day, and at what hourly rate? Assuming 5-10 min per inspection per green and a minimum of 2/per day, that’s between 90-180 labor-hours per month. At a high-end club, inspections likely occur more frequently than twice daily, and at a club with a smaller staff, the person inspecting might be an assistant superintendent given that the field techs might not be skilled enough. Using a drone reduces the same inspection time to 30 man-hours per month (30 min/inspection, 2/day, 30 days)


Golf’s Potential Environmental Impacts
  • Pollution to water systems through run off

  • Poor water stream, shoreline erosion

  • Irrigation and high water use

  • Soil degradation from frequent chemical use and construction



Uses cases for Drones in Golf Course Management

Non-invasive remote sensing methods such as digital image analysis and spectral reflectance have been widely used for quantifying turf grass cover and quality. Maintenance staff sometimes can miss irrigation problems or fungus growth, with the conditions worsening with time. For golf courses, especially, irrigation planning is a crucial component and frequent monitoring is vital to the success of the turf.


Multispectral targeting shows that plants reflect light depending on different factors in regards to their growth stages, levels of stress, impacts from disease, etc. Comparing brands of red light and the near-infrared bands, the multispectral data can identify areas of concern, before landscape management can with the naked eye.



Using multi-spectral sensors along with drone capabilities, assessment of the golf course is made easy, through frequent flights and reduction of field collection time. Maintenance staff can spend more time fixing problems instead of looking for them.


Water Management

  • Thermal imagery will be used to provide insight into water management data. The imagery identifies overspray or missed areas by the difference in crop and soil temperatures.

  • Measure irrigation to properly identify areas of the golf course where water stress or drainage is not working correctly. This allows for improvements to the irrigation, drainage systems and waterways.

  • Leak scouting due to cool and hot zones on thermal images

Fertilizer Management and Disease Identification

  • Visible and invisible spectral bands accompanied with thermal imagery generates early detections of crop stress when comparing this data over periods of time.

  • Thermal provides insights into the health of the turf by highlighting diseased plant's decreased transpiration that is reflected by changes in temperature.

  • Provide essential data on soil fertility allowing for the best use of fertilization by detecting nutrient deficiencies.

  • Plant counting and spacing. Determine if a species is starting to over populate the golf course.

  • Plant height and biomass measurements.


Aerial Mapping

  • Surveying the golf course after storms to quickly view whether the course is playable and assess if there is damage to trees which would need to be repaired or removed.

  • Shaping the group (grading) to direct runoff away from course and site elements

  • Providing players with higher game awareness and insight how to play the course

  • a UAV in flight is performing a host of measurements (telemetry data), to orient its position and ultimately infuse its images with numbers describing real space and distance, which are the building blocks of mapping




Benefits of Improved Environmental Performance in Golf Courses
  • Image and Reputation: Good environmental performance can help you differentiate your course from others in a crowded market and add value by improving public relations and marketing opportunities that attract new golfers or club members.

  • Customer Satisfaction: The nature of your course can enrich golfers’ experience of the game. Surveys have shown that golfers report that playing quality is maintained or even improved as a result of steps taken to manage a course in harmony with the natural environment.

  • Financial Performance: An effective golf course environmental management program can result in reduced insurance premiums, as well as reduced costs for energy, water, fuel, pesticides, or fertilizers.

  • Worker Safety and Reduced Liability: Best practices for chemical management reduce exposure and liability risks from storing, handling, and applying chemicals.

  • Improved Efficiency: Sound environmental management cuts down on waste and promotes efficient operations.

  • Multispectral data will identify pests, disease and invasive weeds. This allows the maintenance team to optimize pesticide usage and crop sprays through early detection.

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