Turning to Robotics a Landscapes Golf Management First-Mover Advantage

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Golfers, check out this cool factor with credit to Landscapes Golf Management as its typical innovator self.

The company-managed Bull Valley Golf Club in Woodstock, Illinois sets out daily to give its golfers top-tier playing conditions and overall remarkable experiences while exercising fiscal prudency as a business.

To deliver these mandates, says General Manager Brad Hisel, his team was exposed to and educated itself about autonomous mowers.  Could an all-electric turf cutter, requiring little labor “touch,” splendidly perform for golf like it does for cemeteries and parks?

Hisel, the golf course maintenance crew and his Landscapes Golf Management support team made the executive decision:  Let’s trial the technology to mow the driving range.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Not too much from which Bull Valley couldn’t quickly and quietly recover.

Moreover, with the help of Joe Langton from Illinois-based Automated Outdoor Solutions, the Echo Robotics model chosen also picks up to 12,500 range balls daily in-season, delivering and dumping them at a chosen location.  Compared to traditional ball pickers, use of robots with a protective guard on mowing blades keeps balls from damage and destruction compared to use of conventional, staff-operated mowers.

Here’s a visual:  Charging stations at a base location power the battery-operated, self-driving dual mower-ball picker, and employees monitor and control units from laptops and smartphones.  They scoot around the range – wires are laid in ground around the perimeter like an electric dog fence – at two to three MPH as programmed.  Consistent heights of cuts range from 3/4-inch to four inches.

Bull Valley stands impressed:

  • A healthier cut eradicating human error – check.
  • A solution for labor challenges – check.
  • Elimination of expensive, highly depreciative equipment – check.
  • Day and night mowing capabilities – check.
  • Light weight for mowing in wet conditions sans turf damage – check.
  • Less risky safety protocols – check.
  • Less supervision resources – check.
  • Noise reduction – check.
  • No need to close the range to mow – check.
  • Carbon reduction – check.
  • Training resources savings – check.
  • Less cost to run than traditional gas mowers – check.
  • Monthly subscription versus heavy cash upfront – check.

To see robots maintaining the driving range emits a cool vibe, Hisel says, with members and guests of all ages frequently commenting on Bull Valley’s contemporary ways.  Students in the club’s junior instruction programs now want to work at the “course with the robots.”

Bull Valley estimates annual savings are up to $25,000.  The ball pickers alone save at least two hours a day whereby Hisel could bank staff salaries or reallocate duties to impact member-guest satisfaction.

What’s next for autonomous mowers at Bull Valley is expansion to roughs along the course and between holes.

Beyond autonomous mowers, experimentation isn’t foreign to Bull Valley and Landscapes Golf Management.  At the pandemic’s start, the club was recognized as the first in America to turn its food-and-beverage operation into a community market for food and drink.

The moral here, says Hisel and echoed by Landscapes Golf Management President Tom Everett – “don’t be too shy to try.”

Rich Katz

Rich Katz is Founder and CEO of Katz Strategy, a golf business and marketing advisory firm. One of golf’s most networked executives for 30-plus years, he founded golf-marketer Buffalo Agency (now Buffalo Groupe), was agent to PGA TOUR players and held leadership positions at Billy Casper Golf. rkatz@katzstrategy.com.

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