Golf Courses Put Wi-Fi to Work

GPS technology is driving Wi-Fi into North American golf courses, turning championship courses into giant hot spots and serving up everything from hospitality and security services to a better chance for a hole-in-one.

What began as a GPS (global positioning satellite) tool to help golfers improve their games has evolved into a fixed wireless management system that is turning golf courses into community hot spots.

"Weve really drilled down on the wireless network," said Blake Poniuck, vice president of sales and marketing for GPS Industries, developers of the system. "From end to end, youve got this wireless coverage with the capability to connect every single facility and every single person in that operation."

Handheld and cart-mounted GPS units, which the company developed two years ago with the notion of helping golfers estimate distances and identify traps, greens and pins, today provide two-way communication with the clubhouse, hospitality services and even security to help course managers build revenue and provide a selling feature for golf resorts and golf communities.

GPSI today provides a wireless management system that uses directional antennae to turn the golf course into a large robust Wi-Fi hotspot, capable of streaming video and delivering content from the Internet.

/zimages/3/28571.gifLooking for a Wi-Fi hot-spot? Click here to use eWEEK.coms Hot-Spot Finder.

"The entire golf course is covered by Wi-Fi, and were one of the only courses in Canada to have that, so it was a big advertising plus for us," said J.J. Belanger, general manager of Mayfair Lakes golf course in Richmond, British Columbia.

The course adopted "where business and golf come together" as its slogan and, in July, officially launched the service.

The course increased cart fees by $5 to cover the costs of mounting the GPSI display units in the golf cards. "We werent sure how that was going to be received by the golfers," said Belanger. But demand outstripped any complaint. The course is adding 10 new carts to its current fleet of 30.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about the use of wireless at one Major League Baseball stadium.

"Our members and guests love the system," said Belanger. "Were getting comments that they cant play without it."

Grant Gray, Mayfair Lakes head golf pro, said the system helps golfers stay on pace. No longer do they have to step off yardages to estimate their distance from the pin; it is shown on the display. "And right from the clubhouse computer we can see where everybody is on the golf course, whether theyre behind or ahead," said Gray.

Internet access, said Belanger, affords "the ability to keep people sticking around longer. Where would you rather do work? Sitting in a cubbyhole in your office downtown or out on a golf course?"

In addition to getting exact point locations and distance readings to the greens, players use handheld and mounted units to call up menus and place food and beverage orders, keep running tallies of scores during tournament play, and receive updates on national tournaments via CBS Sports Line.

The system can also be configured to display positional messages such as advertising from companies that sponsor holes or to broadcast messages to golfers during storms or other emergencies. "As we head into 2005, a lot of companies are interested in advertising on a fulltime basis," said Belanger. "The system could basically pay for itself in short order."

Other courses have extended the system to ancillary businesses such as resort hotels, conference centers, residences in planned golf communities and campgrounds.

The four-star rated Glynns Creek championship par 72 golf course in Long Grove, Iowa, owned and operated by the Scott County Conservation Board, installed GPSIs Inforemer Wi-Fi GPS golf business solution and extended the Wi-Fi Internet link to the adjacent Scott County Bald Eagle campground.

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