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High Tech Turf Care Solutions

Die deutsche Version des folgenden Beitrags aus golfmanager 1/2023 finden Sie HIER (Download PDF).

 

At the ages of Old Tom Morris, greenkeeping was mainly about the experience and knowledge of the local superintendent. Furthermore, golf courses were often built on ground suitable for such activity, as many of the traditional links golf courses around the world still prove. But nowadays, golf venues have become more independent from existing ground – modern technology helps to achieve amazing results on fairways, greens and rough and golf courses nowadays are based on shaping instead of existing topography. But until today, one objective is still the benchmark for all ambitious superintendents: creating the best playing surfaces possible. This requires not only an adequate setup of the golf course during construction, but also the use of outstanding technology on and off the greens. For over three decades, the South Carolinia company SubAir Systems® stands for such excellence – the ability to dry the greens has almost become legendary in combination with TV coverage of professional golf tournaments over the past years. Within minutes the water can be removed and the course returns back to his world-famous playing conditions. Today, SubAir System has kept its outstanding market position and has spread its technology not only to golf courses, but also to other sports and their venues such as football, baseball and soccer. Over the past years, the company has developed multiple solutions which all help to accomplish one objective: providing the best turf for the respective sport possible. The company’s product range includes numerous solutions, among which are:

 

  • SubAir Golf, the underground solution for aeration and moisture removal
  • TurfBreeze™, a permanent or mobile fan for surface aeration
  • TurfWatch™, an software solution to monitor and schedule daily turf conditions and react instantly to changing weather conditions

 

Individual or connected applications

“Golf was where the idea of SubAir was created 35 years ago”, says Trey Crabill, Vice President SubAir Systems, in a meeting with Golfmanager, “and was then spread into secondary markets”. Brad Dennis, President and CEO with SubAir, adds: “Today, golf is still a very important part of our product mix”. The products can either be used independently or in combination. Of course, individual locations and their conditions, e.g. existing soil, have a huge impact on the recommended products during a project. “We are not trying to sell our partners a product, but try to help them accomplish a goal”, states Crabill. Many potential customers think the investment into SubAir Systems might require a lottery win first. “When people hear the exact amounts while talking to us, most are positively surprised regarding the investments and operational costs our systems causes in relation to its benefits”, CEO Dennis adds. Nevertheless, talking SubAir Golf, the company aims at golf courses with the clear ambition to create high quality turf. The fans (TurfBreeze) are a much smaller investment and especially the mobile version provides an efficient solution at a comparatively low investment. Although most golf managers might think of SubAir Golf as a state-of-the-art solution for greens only, it can be applied all over the course – wherever aeration or moisture removal is necessary. Some golf courses therefore have installed the system at their tee boxes as well. The installation of SubAir Golf requires greens compliant to USGA standards. “Most important is the gravel layer of at least 4 inches (equiv. to 10 cm)”, Dennis explains. Furthermore, there are some additional infrastructure requirements such as power supply and – depending on the systems applied – connectivity to other devices. Courses can decide whether to install SubAir Golf either on all or just on selected greens. “When we go to a new course, we challenge the superintendent to give us his worst green to demonstrate how our technology can improve both, operations and customer experience”, Crabill describes the company’s approach. The list of customers reads like a who-is-who in golf excellence: Quail Hollow, Wentworth, Gleneagles and Adare Manor, host of the Ryder Cup 2027, are on the impressive customer list. The fact that SubAir Golf is invisible is one of the company’s challenges in marketing. “In soccer or baseball, everybody talks frankly about applying our systems. In golf – due to the nature of most of our ultra-private clients – they do not talk about the technology they apply and even we are often not allowed to talk about all installations we have completed”, Crabill describes the challenge. Nevertheless, golfers can experience the results every time they enjoy a round on these courses.

 

Avoid waterlogging – prevent diseases

The fast removal of moisture seems to be the most impressive visible function of SubAir Golf.  For comparison: a natural green compliant to USGA standards drains in about an hour – SubAir Golf does the job in under 2 minutes according to the Dennis. This benefits also helps a golf club to avoid damage on the greens when golfers play on wet surfaces.

 

The second function – aeration – is actually the number one application in the US. More and more golf courses acknowledge that especially the quality of the greens is a decisive factor in competition: “when you have the best greens, you are often considered the best venue in the area”, summarizes Brad Dennis the company’s experience. Therefore, golf clubs should also consider more technology support at their tee boxes, too, as they are the second most important factor, as Dennis’ colleague Crabill states. “Most customers expect a much higher investments and significant interruption to course play”, Dennis reports. Installing the system does not affect daily play: when the green is USGA compliant, it can be installed without a shut-down of play. Furthermore, the system is independent of the type of grass used on the specific green. Adapting the system to the requirements of the turf used is part of the installation. “In combination with our software, the technology helps golf courses to reduce labor intensity, as the superintendent can monitor and control everything from his tablet and many processes are automated by our technology”, Vice President Crabill summarizing the benefits of the investment. Regarding infrastructure, a connection to the drainage system and a minimum 208 volts AC power supply (most European venues provide between 380 and 430 volts) are essential. Operational costs depend on the duration of usage. On average, US golf courses spend about 100 USD per month per green, CEO Dennis says. Furthermore, the SubAir team in the HQ in Graniteville, SC, can monitor and support superintendents worldwide and help them to configure their systems operation in the best way during daily business – no consultancy on location is required. The system also supports individual configurations per hole. Possible interfaces and connections to irrigation systems such as Rainbird or Toro are currently under consideration. Whether the focus in a club will be more on drying or aeration is a very important part of the SubAir Golf installation process. “We work with the club through the functions and benefits our technology can provide, but they finally decide which ones they prefer in which way to accomplish their goals”, says Crabill. Most commonly used functionality nowadays is pressure. “This has so many benefits as it makes the greens much healthier and stronger, so they can bear more play”, says Dennis. The frequency of usage and duration depends on the greens and location and is therefore part of the individual configuration process.

 

Emerging market Europe

With regards to future business, Europe becomes crucial. “We have done a great job of implementing our technology in the US”, the CEO recognizing the achievements of the past. Therefore, the company cooperates with the UK-based turf specialist Bernhard and Company as their European partner for distribution, installation and maintenance for SubAir Golf and TurfBreeze. But regional extension is only one part of the company’s future market approach. “We have transformed from a turf care company to a turf tech company”, Dennis explains. Big data is an important part of this transformation. “We have collected an incredible amount of data from numerous data points on the golf courses. With cloud-based storage and access, this information helps the superintendents to design their best possible maintenance strategy”, Crabill adds. This also helps golf courses to accomplish their targets in sustainability: due to the company’s experiences, greens are in use much longer with the care they receive via SubAir Systems. Furthermore, the use of critical resources such as water is more sustainable, as e.g. over-watering will be avoided. Agronomy staff can accomplish many tasks from their desks, which also reduces the time (and emissions from their carts) they have to spent on the course. As cost of labor become more and more expensive, technology helps to limit manual tasks and supports the clubs in keeping in eye on labor cost, according to SubAir Systems.

 

Conclusion

SubAir provides market-leading technology for the agronomy business. As more and more venues in Continental Europe have experienced less rain and more and longer dry periods over the recent years, the stress on the turfs applied – especially on the greens – has risen. Modern technology – below the surface with SubAir Golf or above surface with TurfBreeze – can help golf clubs not only to reduce maintenance costs (and costs for replacing dead turf on the greens), but also to gain a competitive advantage based on quality. Furthermore, the automized tasks can help to reduce manual interference, which becomes more and more important with the shortage of agronomy specialists. Venues, which put a stronger focus on aeration, can achieve benefits via TurfBreeze – both as permanent or mobile system. If a club needs more care for both, aeration and moisture removal, SubAir Golf can be of enormous benefit. And like always in business: sometimes it is necessary to spend a bit more in the beginning to achieve outstanding results and save money on the long run.

 

Author: Michael Althoff | golfmanager 1/2023

TurfBreeze™ is available as a mobile version ... (Photo: M. Althoff)
… or as a permanent installation, e.g. around the green. (Photo: M. Althoff)
The SubAir systems can be installed while the game is in progress. (Photo: SubAir)
(Photo: SubAir)
(Photo: SubAir)
Principle of ventilation (Graphic: SubAir)
Principle of drainage; both systems can be controlled and monitored via proprietary software solutions. (Graphic: SubAir)
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