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Golf pros find benefits of using GPS technology

Rob Sabo

Golf course managers are putting a new generation of Global Positioning System technology to work to track groups of players, boost revenues and control costs.

Units installed in golf carts have helped golfers dial-in pin distances for several years.

But golf pros say new systems such as the GPS Inforemer, offered by Vancouver-based GPS Industries Inc., reduce the average overall time of play by eliminating slowdowns on the course. The pro shop can view the entire course and players via computer and can track the pace of play between groups. Laggards are flagged so that a club ambassador can zip over and encourage speedier play. Resources such as club marshals are directed exactly where they are most needed.

Cathy Jo Johnson, director of golf for the Golf Courses at Incline Village, says the Inforemer system was installed last June in 80 golf carts for the Championship course and has been an incalculable investment.

“It tells us where exactly where they (the golfers) are to where they should be for the time they teed off,” Johnson says. Additionally, GPS helps golfers judge distances to obstacles, bunkers and hazards. “It helps players to manage the golf course as well.”

Installed at a cost of $235,000 for the 80 carts and two ambassador units, Johnson says the club has seen significant returns in several key areas:

* Advertising. The course began a push this winter to sell banner and full-page ads, which scroll across the GPS displays.

* Staffing. Since adding GPS, the pro shop slimmed its staff to just one course ambassador rather than two.

* Refunds and return customers. “How many additional rounds, how many refunds we don’t have to give, how much happier are customers and how likely they are to return those things are tough to measure,” Johnson says.

Greg Enholm has been head golf professional at Red Hawk for the past five years. Red Hawk had GPS capabilities for years, but last year the course changed out its older equipment for the Inforemer system in 170 carts at a cost of well over $500,000.

“Being spread out as we are with 36 holes, it allows us to police our golf course from one central location,” Enholm says. “We can send out up to almost 300 golfers at once and watch them on computer monitors. It is an invaluable asset.”

When a bottleneck occurs, golfers are immediately sent an on-screen warning message urging them to speed their play. “They get hit right away, and they will also expect someone to come help out,” Enholm says. “They get the point when an ambassador is there. They don’t want them there as much as the ambassador doesn’t want to be there, so they usually speed up on their own.”

Last year D’Andrea Golf Club purchased a new GPS system from ProShot Golf of Irvine, Calif. for all 80 of its carts. The non-graphic interface speeds play by helping golfers quickly judge distances from just about any spot on the course.

“Ours is very much geared toward increasing pace of play and enhancing it,” says Adele Snyder, director of sales and marketing at D’Andrea. “It also helps us maintain control over our fleet. They stay on property. Not that we have had any issues, but one of the advantages is knowing where your fleet is at all times.”

GPS systems are also increasing food and beverage sales. Golfers can order on-screen from hole No. 8 and their chow will be ready by the time they reach the turn at No. 9. In addition to advertising revenues, some courses can recoup their initial investment by offering golf communities wireless Internet access through their satellite repeaters.

“I think the real benefits are still to come,” Enholm says. “With other advertising opportunities we will be able to recoup some of the costs of the entire system. It has been really beneficial to our operations. It allows us to give a nice amenity to a guest that is paying quite a bit of money to play, and it just adds to the high quality we offer here.”

At a rough cost of nearly $3,000 per cart, there won’t be many Inforemer units in carts at the area’s struggling municipal golf courses. For now the technology is strictly for upscale courses.

“Some clubs can justify it and some perhaps can’t,” Johnson says. “For us for course management and pace-of-play, it has been an invaluable tool.”