A new product that Toro Co. helped develop will make golf courses more green — and save money in the process.
GeoLink, which Toro designed with California-based Topcon Positioning Systems, is a precision spraying system that uses GPS satellites, mapping software and computerized spray nozzles to reduce the amount of chemicals needed to treat greens and fairways.
The system will be available in North America this summer by year's end. Bloomington-based Toro has not yet determined a price, but is finalizing beta testing at golf courses in Florida, New Jersey and England.
The companies designed GeoLink to be installed on Toro's premium tank sprayer-trucks, which field managers use to apply weedkillers, fungicides, pesticides, fertilizers or grass dyes to golf courses and ball fields around the country.
Toro officials are hoping excitement over GeoLink at the Golf Industry Show in San Antonio and last month's Reinders' Turf and Irrigation Conference near Milwaukee will turn into a new steady sales stream.
Jace Bertsch, Toro's marketing manager, said the device has significant market potential.
"In a few years, this could be [on] as much as half of our sprayers," Bertsch said. "Our research is showing that this GeoLink product has a value proposition that would appeal to 30 to 50 percent of golf course customers and 15 to 35 percent of sports field and grounds customers."
Bertsch said the product is attractive because it helps turf managers slash chemical costs by up to 14 percent. The onboard computer also tracks the quantity of each chemical dispensed, which makes reporting to government bodies easier.
The Ritz Carlton Members Golf Club in Sarasota, Fla., has been beta testing GeoLink since August, also simultaneously using a regular non-GPS sprayer to compare the two.
"It blows your mind when you see it for the first time, because it is so precise," said Jon Betts, assistant superintendent for the golf course. "When you are spraying with the GPS sprayer inside the [mapped area], it knows when to turn on or off each individual nozzle. … You get the best, perfect, uniform coverage with that GPS sprayer. And you get it without excess waste or skipping."
Last week, the Ritz Carlton analyzed months of GeoLink test data and discovered that it cut its turf chemical use by 7 to 10 percent for the 40-acre course.
Golf courses can spend $200,000 a year on turf chemicals. "So if this GPS sprayer ends up saving you 10 percent, then that's a $20,000 savings," Betts said.
GeoLink also is being tested at the Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, which will host the PGA Championship next year.
Kim Heck, CEO of the Sports Turf Management Association, acknowledged that Toro is still tweaking its final design, but said, "I am thinking that a sprayer such as this would have really good applicability for sports fields in parks and rec facilities, schools K-12 and collegiate facilities."
The system is designed so that once a treatment area is "mapped" into the system, all the turf manager has to do is drive the truck. The sprayers automatically dispense the preprogrammed amount of chemical only in the designated area.
GeoLink uses GPS satellites and cell-tower "corrector" systems to map out the target zones to be sprayed. A tracking system also measures the amount of chemical dispensed from each nozzle and prevents overlaps. The spray commands are accurate to within either 1 foot or 1 centimeter, depending on which software is chosen by the turf manager.
The advanced system borrows an idea long applied to farm fields. But instead of crops, the GPS system is used on tanker trucks treating football and soccer fields and golf courses that have fairways and greens with very different chemical needs. Topcon rewrote the software that converted the technology from cornfields to golf courses.
"We are thrilled to partner with Toro on our debut to the turf spraying segment," said Jason Killpack, Topcon's business development director. Applying GPS technology to turf is an "exciting new product" for Topcon and will expand its customer-base, he said.