Golfers latest to get satellite help

West Palm Beach - U.S. Army troops used it to avoid land mines embedded in the desert during the Persian Gulf War.

Now South Florida golfers can use the same technology to decide between a 7-iron or a 3-wood in avoiding sand traps on their way to the green.

A West Palm Beach golf course has become the first in the country to introduce the global positioning system, or GPS, to pinpoint the precise distance from their golf balls to the hole.

Emerald Dunes Golf Club owner Ray Finch has contracted with Golf Track of Irvine, Calif. to install GPS devices on Emerald Dunes' 80 golf carts.

The deal won't cost Finch any money up front, although Finch will pay Global Track a $2.50 fee for each round of golf. Each GPS unit, with a terminal and connections to the golf shop, costs about $3,000 - the same price as a golf cart.

Emerald Dunes, on Vista Parkway west of Florida's Turnpike and Century Village in West Palm Beach, will be the first course in the country to install the high-tech navigational aid, Finch said. "The technology just made itself available in an affordable form."

Using GPS should take a lot of the guessing out of golf. Players currently estimate the distance to the hole by pacing to a nearby sprinkler head that measures yardage to the center of the green. But sometimes the hole is in the back of the green, or in the front, or slightly left or right of center.

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With GPS, players should know the distance from their golf balls to the pin within four feet.

"There are a lot of variables that will all of a sudden be taken out of the picture," said Paul Makris, general manager. "It'll speed up play because people won't take so much time looking for yardage. We'll be able to play more golfers and at a better pace."

And that's what it's all about: Making room for more golfers to plunk down $125 (including cart rental) for a round of 18 holes.

Finch expects golfers will finish their games more quickly with the navigational help. He said Emerald Dunes will be able to host 16 more players a day when the course is crowded. As he has it figured, that should add 1,000 rounds of golf a year during peak time to a course that already reports 45,000 rounds a year.

He hasn't estimated just how much that will add to the bottom line, but said it represents a "significant" increase in revenue since most players also buy food, golf balls or shirts.

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Emerald Dunes has been testing half a dozen GPS devices since the beginning of the year and expects installation to be completed in the next 30 days.

GPS initially was developed by the U.S. military in the 1970s as a worldwide navigational system. It relies on signals from two dozen defense satellites to calculate latitude, longitude and altitude. In the past decade, however, the system has been readily adopted by marine and aviation industries as well as outdoorsmen and the auto rental industry.

Besides helping golfers pinpoint the tees, the system will also allow the clubhouse and players to send messages to each other.

A map in the golf shop also will show the position of carts on the course. That allows the course to cut the number of "rangers" who monitor slow players or players with problems like a flat tire.

And during South Florida's intense summer thunderstorms, course managers can send messages - via black and white terminals installed on the carts - to players advising them to seek shelter.

"It's the wave of the future for golf," Makris said.

Now if only a golfer could use his GPS to hail the bar cart.

Post Author: Lester Happer