With project development constantly advancing, Burton-On-Trent Golf Club looks to technology in order to improve the course. This picturesque Derbyshire course was founded in 1894 and is set in 150 acres of woodland in a tranquil setting near Bretby, on the outskirts of Burton-on-Trent.
The mature course was redesigned and improved by the famous Harry Colt in 1914, with immaculate fairways, fast multi-tiered greens and an 'Augusta Style' 18th hole. It offers a serious but pleasing challenge to all.
Course manager Leon Dalton has been at the course for over eighteen years and talked us through how drones have recently helped map, develop and improve the course and suggests this could be something used by all courses in the future.
Leon was keen to explain how drones had been used so far: "Over the last two years, Frazer Harrison from Vantage Imagery has taken drone footage and thousands of photographs of the course. He creates an orthomosaic (large image) of the golf course, similar to Google Earth but much higher resolution and the image depicts all the different features around the course."
"During my vast years at the club, one of the main changes is the technology. The drone images and footage give us an insight into where we need to be looking. It just gives a better understanding of what's going on around the course and what problems we might need to solve."
Leon addressed the use of being able to have these images and notes at his fingertips: "Keeping these records allows us to mark down what has been done. I use the Vantage Imagery pix4D system. Utilising that, Frazer can undertake all the mappings and I can use the images to mark the findings. I can then also use the tools on the system to plan for future projects."
He highlighted the enhancement drone imagery gives for project development: "If I'm constructing a new tee, I can mark out the boundaries, work out the area and the cubic metres if I want to look at the depth. Before I even go out onto the course, I've been able to map out all the details on the images, as well as figure out a rough cost. One of the most useful things for us as greenkeepers is that you can layer over the images. For instance, I have been able to layer irrigation lines onto the image taken by the drone. This then allows me to match up the drainage lines with the irrigation channels. There is so much you can do with this innovative technology."
Leon explained exactly what the drone footage offered when it came to a recent irrigation project: "We already had a map of the irrigation from when it was installed, so Frazer was then able to overlay that map with his drone footage to allow us to see the course in real-time. It then gave us an updated version of whereabouts everything is, allowing us to identify any problems."
Leon continued: "While we were installing a new control system for the irrigation, we also evaluated all the cablings to ensure there were no breaks or faults along the line. We also found that we had some anomalies which we were able to trace them out. We also found a lot of junction boxes that we did not know were on the course. Frazer's system allowed us to track the exact location of the boxes and make notes for future reference."
"We are currently undertaking multiple winter projects which consist of drainage improvements, installing and repairing equipment and irrigation upgrades. In terms of drainage, Frazer had the drone footage of the course to hand. We also had him do specific areas where we have had drainage problems."
"Last summer, I got Frazer to do a whole course survey. Whilst the turf was burnt off, the footage would highlight any visible drain lines; and it turned out there were quite a number of them. This winter, we have been able to use this information to pinpoint problems and repair and rectify them. We have also been able to mark them on the map so that future teams will know what work has been done on the course - at an exact location."
Leon used an example of project development: "The other thing that Frazer's programme has been helpful for is future planning for construction work. Using the map, you can use a polygon function to measure areas and you can also measure depth. This means you can work out how much soil you might need for the project. I sometimes print off the map of a green and use that to get an estimate of how I want the shape to be."
He added: "The architect report is quite old, so I use Frazer's imagery as a modern-day tool for where we want to go with things. For example, with two of the bunkers on hole six, I have mapped out on the pictures from Frazer and how I want these to look before any work starts. I can then propose these ideas to the Board and the images make the plan clear to see - rather than trying to explain a bunker and reshape in my head."
Quick fire Q&A
How did you get into the industry?
I got into greenkeeping purely by accident. I left secondary school not knowing what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I wanted to work outside. So, I enrolled on a BTEC First Diploma in Horticulture at Broomfield College. During this time, I had to do three placements all of which I did here at Burton Golf Club. In just two weeks, I fell in love with the job.
What happened after the placements finished, did you go into full-time work?
When I had finished, unfortunately Burton didn't have any jobs going. I had a few months out to think and then a job at a local course (Willesley Park Golf Club) came up and I took it. Whilst there, I completed my NVQ level 3, before a deputy position came up at Burton. I got that job, and I was in the position for ten years.
Do you have advice for anyone coming into the industry?
I don't often talk about it, but I'm dyslexic. I've never let this be a barrier for me and it's never stopped me from having ambitions to achieve what I wanted. I think it's important for youngsters to understand that it doesn't matter what disabilities or things you might struggle with. The important thing is you can achieve anything. If you're passionate about something then there shouldn't be any barriers.
Do the rules and regulations within golf need to evolve?
As the new generation of people come through, it's important for clubs to also adapt and change to what their members require. For instance, on the Pro Tour, you've got golfers wearing hoodies, but, if he looks smart, then why not? Golf clubs will need to accommodate people who might not want to wear that traditional attire. Years ago, you'd point blank be told you weren't allowed to play if you were wearing a certain attire. This is what we need to get away from. We've got to try and make clubs more welcoming for everybody.
Frazer has worked in the golf industry for the past 28 years.
"I was amazed by the endless possibilities of a drone. Having an aerial view gave me the ability to look at a golf course from a unique perspective. Alongside being able to obtain fantastic motion and still photography, it helped me plan projects as well as keep an eye on potential problem areas with the use of vegetation indices."
"I can now survey an entire golf course in a day, overlaying irrigation systems or drainage plans. Using my web based platform you can now add in your own plans directly on the map".