GIS: The Future of Course Mapping in Golf

With the advent of powerful portable computers and Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies, it appears that computerized mapping of golf courses is the way of the future. But how do such systems work?

1. A computer-displayed golf course mop and underlying aerial orthophoto are digitally linked to geographic information stored in ‘background’ database tiles inside the GroundLinkx Geographic Information System (GIS) program.

2. GPS-accurate dimensional information for each tee, fairway, green, bunker, lake, etc., is instantly available along with other details of each golf course feature shown on a map.

3. Golf course maintenance-related algorithms are embedded into the GIS mapping program and are accessible as specific tasks from pull-down menus.

4. Menus provide instant answers for flower spacing requirements, core aerification, and top-dressing volumes, fertilizer/fungicide/herbicide/insecticide product requirements, water management, by-name tree locators and additional maintenance operations based on the features and turf areas the superintendent selects or draws on a computer screen.

For example, suppose a course’s bunker sand and liners need replacement, and the green committee wants cost estimates for a budget meeting tomorrow. Using the “Old Method,” employees were sent to each bunker, and circle, rectangle, triangle and trapezoid string patterns were created over the bunkers with string and nails. When a bunker is completely covered by the pattern combination, each pattern is measured, and square feet are calculated using standard geometry.


Then the total area at the geometric patterns is totaled, the volume for each bunker is hand calculated in cubic feet, and a book of conversion tables is used to translate into cubic yards and tons. Dimensional square feet (for liners) and volume figures are totaled, and a table of calculations is transposed into print from the handwritten totals.

The time required to complete such a project generally is measured in days. In addition, missed, incorrect or improperly recorded measurements and/or calculations will produce erroneous results. Even if all the mathematics are correct, the actual area can be off by as much as 15-20 percent due to imprecise “filling” of the entire bunker inside the geometric patterns Interference with golf play and bunker damage also are undesirable consequences of the procedure. The result is unhappy golfers, bunker repairs, and uncertain budget figures.


Using the “GIS Method,” superintendents select bunkers on a map. A “bunker volume” menu is selected, a number is entered for estimated average sand depth, and a “Get Answer” button is clicked. In less than one second, an answer box appears a screen, showing the total area of bunkers and the total volume of sand required in cubic feet, cubic yards and tons. Another mouse click brings up a table listing each individual bunker’s location, its area in square feet, and its sand capacity in cubic feet, cubic yards and tons. A superintendent prints the results and returns to his or her course.

The time to complete the entire project is no more than a few minutes, Because the GIS map automatically “knows” the exact area of the most intricate golf course features, and the embedded turf-care algorithms in the program are consistently reliable, optimal accuracy is possible. Bunker damage and interference with golf play are non-factors, and the green committee gets the information they requested on time, professionally formatted and with cost-containment assurance.

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