Links Superintendent Paul Robertson watches as the Cub Cadet RG3 grooms the greens while staff perform other required maintenance and golfers can still enjoy a round at Victoria Golf Course. (Christine van Reeuwyk/Oak Bay News)

Robot greenskeeper helps Victoria Golf Club staffers keep the pace

Club founded in 1893 uses leading-edge technology to keep the grass green

Before the sun is fully up, the greens swarm with a summer crew edging, raking, weeding and mowing the Victoria Golf Club greens.

The club, founded in 1893, is the oldest 18-hole golf course in Canada in its original location but it utilizes leading-edge technology to keep the greens, well, green.

In the office off Beach Drive a GreenSiteAG prototype recharges.

“It’s a handy tool,” says Paul Robertson, links superintendent. “It can see things about a week before we can see them.”

The drone, armed with cameras and infrared, scans the grounds for turf damage, dryness and impending ailments. In one example a highlighted area shows where footfalls continuously damage the grass. That might be an area to look at a different ground cover Robertson says. Currently, staff at Western Canada’s oldest golf club launch it and monitor the drone on occasion. The longstanding method is weather stations that cover several small areas gauging evapotranspiration – the amount of water lost per day by the plant and surrounding soil – which tells greens techs how much to water per night. The weather station gives us just one reading of a small area to represent the entire course.

“When the drone flies over it covers the whole course,” Robertson said.

“We eventually want to have this do it on its own,” Robertson said, noting they would pay $6,000 a pop for a flyover previously. “It’s really not about reducing labour. It’s about leveraging time.”

For that same reason Jamie Shillington works alongside the Cub Cadet RG3, both grooming the picturesque eighth hole.

“This gets you off the mower and allows you to do other important things.”

That frees up a staffer to multi-task – change a hole, soil moisture probing or raking bunkers for example. The robot mowers are electric offering no noise or emissions. The return on investment is three years for a course using riding greens mowers, like VGC, Robertson said. RG3 have a life expectancy of four to five years then traded in for new units.

The robots cost $65,000 per unit. Victoria Golf Club plans to use four or five as they shift this year to a “sectional maintenance” regimen with each operator responsible for four or five green sites.


 

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com

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