Typically, when I visit the Golf Industry Show (GIS), in addition to renewing old acquaintances and making new ones I enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the maintenance side of the golf business. Though often overwhelmed by the equipment, chemical products and technology introduced annually at GIS, I always walk away with some knowledge I didn’t have before.
I met with some industry leaders like Steve Mona, Jan Bel-Jan and Joe Beditz and had some interesting discussions about broadening golf’s culture and reviving growth in participation. We talked about everything from allowing, if not encouraging golfers to have the family dog accompany them for a late day 9 (or more) to relaxing dress codes at private clubs and promoting “brown” golf courses with great playing surfaces over emerald green playing areas that use too much water and chemicals on turf grass types that aren’t economically sustainable.
We also talked about how those in industry leadership roles can influence leadership at our iconic private clubs that are the image of golf to non-golfers to assist the growth of the game by balancing a preservation of tradition with societal evolution in the interest of the economic health of our game.
This year, in San Diego I also saw several interesting products that caught my eye.
The three (3) most intriguing were the GreenStik (without sand delivery), the Bunker Wizard and Robotic mowing and maintenance equipment.
The GreenStik (www.crosshairsgolf.com/GreenStik)is nothing new. Maintenance crews have for years repaired hallmarks and filled with sand using this device to “clean-up” after negligent golfers who,failed to repair their ballmarks. The “NS” (No sand) model doesn’t store sand to insert into the repaired mark, but is much lighter than the original, about the weight of an extra golf club and could be used easily by golfers to fix multiple ballmarks left unrepaired by golfers. Of particular interest, it would be back-saving, at the length of a typical golf club and almost encourage golfers to repair the marks of others. At a cost of $99, I doubt a lot of golfers will purchase and carry this tool, but I’m intrigued by the concept of golfers being easily able to fix more ballmarks without stressing the back.
Also along the lines of players leaving the course as they find it is a new product from golf training aid giant Momentus Sports called Bunker Wizard (www.Bunkerwizard.com) that could replace the traditional bunker rake.
With both “course” and “maintenance” models, Bunker Wizard demonstrated an easy way to rake a bunker and leave it nearly perfect every time using a cylindrical wire cage that flings sand skyward only to land softly and evenly leaving a smooth surface. Time will tell if it catches on but it sure seemed easy and at $119-$129 for the “course” models and $275 for the crew version it seems like an effective tool. They are also planning a tractor compatible model for the Toro Sand Pro and John Deere 1200, coming soon.
Last and anything but least is the line of autonomous (robotic) maintenance equipment being marketed by several of the leading turf equipment companies. Soon, it may become commonplace to have fairway and greens mowers operated remotely or automatically and by GPS. These offer the promise of reduced labor costs and attractive “payback” periods that can create value for golf facilities by reducing maintenance costs while maintaining quality playing conditions.
Not only is the cost of labor increasing, but finding labor is more and more difficult to find. Autonomous equipment addresses both problems. The equipment isn’t cheap, but the long term gains are significant.