Kite aerial photography (KAP) is a form of small-format aerial photography (SFAP) that has been used quite often in the last several decades. Currently in vogue in the golf course management industry, it is used to monitor topography, soil erosion, drainage and vegetation growth. Researchers at Emporia State University in Kansas went to several golf courses in the state to assess problems that golf course superintendents have with course management issues. In dry regions of the state, courses have trouble allocating the water they need to keep the greens, well, green. At Southwind Country Club outside of Garden City, Kansas, they rely on excess water from the housing division that borders the course; however, future availability of this source is of great concern. The Emporia State researchers used KAP to evaluate irrigation at peak growth times.
Golf courses are a sizable industry in the United States, and according to the National Golf Foundation, there are some 18,000 courses dispersed through the States where golfers spend some $25 million annually on their practice of the sport. With many of these courses residing in areas where there is limited fresh water to sustain the beautiful landscaping that is expected on most courses (i.e. Las Vegas), the future of the sport may rely on better management and resource practices to provide the experience that golfers expect.
KAP is a low-height, high-resolution aerial photography solution with reasonable costs. It will allow superintendents to monitor species fairway encroachment, measure degree of shade from tree canopies and track changes to green dimensions by shifts in mowing patterns. At Southwind, the course is constructed on a rolling sand hill terrain, and the native vegetation is san-sage prairie. Irrigated bentgrass fairways and bluegrass roughs contrast sharply with sand-sage prairies on the infrared photography, allowing for greater ability to differentiate between species overlap and encroachment.
The bentgrass fairways are susceptible to a condition called “localized dry spot,” where soil surfaces are effectively water-repellent which can lead to winterkill. Using KAP, the researchers were able to establish which areas had fallen victim to winterkill; and to implement a plan to remediate and reseed the areas in an attempt to prevent future issues. After irrigation plans were modified and areas reseeded, the occurrences of winterkill diminished the next season; and this was confirmed through KAP.