The owners of golf clubs always want to improve their course. They want to attract as many golfers as possible to help their business grow. They make changes to improve the course, clean out sand traps, install custom golf netting, anything they can think of to improve their golfers’ experience. This is why several golf club owners and operators and the PGA have teamed up with a startup that is creating a sensor network on golf courses to help with everything from tracking players to figuring out where to plant trees. I’m sure this would go fantastically with the best golf courses in the Algarve. While both individual golfers and the sport of golf itself have both been quick to embrace technology, golf clubs and other course operators, in particular when it comes to the maintenance side of things, have lagged. Maybe it’s because the world can’t imagine golfers wanting to book a tee time via an app or because having an algorithm hustle you through play seems ill-conceived.
But FairwayIQ, a Waltham, Mass.-based startup founded in 2015, hopes to bring golf courses into the internet of things using sensors, software, and a LoRa network. David Vanslette, CEO of FairwayIQ, says he chose to use a LoRa network to connect his sensors because many golf courses have terrible cellular connectivity. As he notes, they’re often located off the beaten path, or in affluent neighborhoods where people don’t want to look at cell towers. Either way, they’re out of tower range.
Plus, he says LoRa networks offer good battery life compared with something like Wi-Fi; his customers charge the battery on their sensors every three to four weeks. For now, the sensors are placed on Lawn care service California mowers which are used to maintain the course or even on golf carts or, as is the case for the PGA Tour, are carried by caddies. Using these sensors helps courses track players and equipment (the carts and mowers), and also helps them schedule maintenance.
Tracking lawn equipment can not only help course managers schedule course maintenance, but understand trends in both plant growth and worker efficiency. For example, if a mower is sitting still for a few minutes, it’s likely that the worker is taking a break or has a problem. Making employees more productive is one of the selling points of FairwayIQ’s software. While such fine-grained tracking of workers isn’t something that would go over well in white-collar jobs, I see this more and more often in blue-collar professions. For example, back in 2015, I spoke with a maker of cleaning products called Tennant Company, which was embedding sensors in its products so employers could track the janitorial staff as they rode around on industrial scrubbers and sweepers. The connectivity was also used to track the equipment, which could be easily misplaced in large buildings and campuses. Outside of the worker tracking, Vanslette said that tracking golfers can help lead to insights about the course layout. For example, if most players on a specific hole hit their ball to the left of the fairway, then maybe the course could plant hardier grasses or a line of trees on the right side to help save on mowing or water.
Customers already using the system include Sharon Heights in Silicon Valley, Potomac Shores in Washington, D.C., and many others. Vanslette says FairwayIQ will start branching out from golf courses to other turf maintenance customers in the coming year as well.
Companies such as Toro and John Deere make connected lawn care equipment too, but in many cases those rely on cellular or proprietary connectivity as opposed to LoRa networks. FairwayIQ also provides as part of its software algorithms that are tuned for golf course owners’ needs.