I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am still amazed at the mere concept we are living in the year 2020! Have you stopped to ponder the year 2050 is as near us as the year 1990? Exactly. I was born in 1968 and will be 52 later this year. When I was growing up in the early 1970s, my idea of 2020 was most likely formed by The Jetsons, with video phones, robot housekeepers like Rosie and flying cars that fit snugly in a briefcase.
OK, so maybe FaceTime is a real thing, and although I have never seen an actual robot butler or housekeeper, there are robots that clean floors. We’ll get back to the flying car thing. I got my introduction to greenkeeping and this wonderful industry in 1988. Driving a Massey Ferguson tractor pulling a 5-gang mower was my first experience and I soon graduated to mowing fairways with a 7-gang Jacobsen F10.
Fast-forward more than 30 years and I’ve witnessed some remarkable technological advances. The Toro 648 aerator is probably the first big improvement that comes to my mind. I still know some guys that rely on a small army of Ryan GA24s because they make a perfect hole, but the speed and efficiency of the Toro 648 was a game-changer for most of us.
I could write an entire series of columns on the advances in irrigation technology, so I will simply say we’ve come a long way from control clocks to using smartphones and tablets as well as the precision of today’s rotors and inserts vs. block systems, impact heads and other stories of the famed night waterman.
But I don’t want to wax poetic about the old days. Let’s look at the advances just in the last decade. I obtained my first TDR in 2012; now I have four of them. Digital job boards are quite common in modern turf care facilities and operations, although I’m still an analog guy (fancy way of saying I still rely on the whiteboard).
Drones are flying over golf courses, capturing images and the data is then used to help golf course superintendents make decisions. And although most popular social media platforms have been around for more than 10 years, most superintendents have gravitated to them in the past decade to communicate to members and customers, as well as exchange ideas and information with fellow superintendents.
So, what’s next? What do the next 10 years hold for the golf course maintenance industry? I recently had the opportunity to appear on The Fried Egg Podcast hosted by Andy Johnson during the Golf Industry Show. We were joined by Edric Funk of Toro and the three of us conversed about a variety of technology and innovation topics, the biggest being autonomous mowers.
Ironically, just a few weeks following that conversation, Cub Cadet surprisingly announced they were shelving their autonomous greens mowers for the time being. I believe I shared in our podcast conversation that I once told my greens chairman that although robotic mowers like the RG3 already exist, I felt it would take seeing them in the trade show floor booths of the big three manufacturers before we are truly on the doorstep of that phase of the industry.
And 2020 did that as Toro and John Deere both exhibited autonomous technology at GIS. But will robots save our labor issues and become commonplace on our golf courses? I don’t know, but I do expect we may see more of them in the next 10 years. Another thing I think we will see is an “old is new again” approach to solving our challenges.
I earlier shared my experience about using a 7-gang wide mower and I think we will continue to see innovation that harkens back to those days of large and efficient equipment. The newer large pieces will be strong, but lighter, thanks to modern materials. They will allow one operator to perform the job of two, alleviating some staffing issues.
My vision of the modern greenkeeping facility before we reach the end of these roaring ’20s is a hybrid: The staff size is reduced and some autonomous mowers are included. Larger, faster equipment operated by a few individuals used in conjunction with robotic mowers will allow a team of 12 to perform the work once completed by 18 to 20.
The modern golf course superintendent and his or her core team of assistants and equipment managers will be tech savvy and monitor the operation with the touch of button. And who knows? By then, the superintendent’s cart might just fly. I just hope we’re not all simultaneously crying out to our equipment managers to “Stop this crazy thing!”