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Where carts become caddies

Sprinkler heads won't get as much attention this year at The Meadows. In previous years, players at the Moorhead public golf course, like players on most courses, gauged the distance to the hole using the yardage listed on sprinklers scattered ac...

Sprinkler heads won't get as much attention this year at The Meadows.

In previous years, players at the Moorhead public golf course, like players on most courses, gauged the distance to the hole using the yardage listed on sprinklers scattered across the fairways.

When The Meadows opened for the season last week, 13-inch computer screens linked to global positioning satellites were mounted on all 60 of its gas golf carts.

The GPS-equipped computers measure the exact distance to the hole, which helps golfers select which club to use.

"When you stop, you're not out looking for a sprinkler. You're just looking for the green," said Keith VanHoorn as his threesome made its way down the seventh fairway.

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VanHoorn, 32, his 27-year-old brother, Kent, and 33-year-old friend, Chad Oberg, battled winds gusting up to 40 mph as they played their first round of the year Friday. The trio said they were impressed by the new technology.

"There's no question about what club to use," said Kent VanHoorn.

Oberg said the computer also gives distances to water hazards and sand traps, yardages that were largely unavailable to players before.

"It shows it all," he said.

The carts can do a lot more than measure distance, said Mark Johnson, golf professional at The Meadows.

Now, golfers can:

- Order food or drinks on the fifth, eighth and 17th holes and receive their orders on the next hole.

- Keep score on the computers and link with other carts to form tournaments with an up-to-the-minute leader board displayed on each console.

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- Send messages to the clubhouse to let them know they have lost or found a club, need medical attention or would like to speak to a ranger.

The computers also allow the clubhouse to monitor players, making sure they are driving carts where they should and let lagging groups know they need to speed up. Groundskeepers can review the records of where carts travel to see which areas of the course need the most attention.

"I'm certain there are more features I haven't even seen yet," Johnson said.

The Moorhead City Council approved adding the GPS units to the carts in September, entering into a five-year contract with the Texas-based UpLink Corporation to lease the system.

The Meadows is the first area course to have GPS units on its carts, though it has become standard practice at resorts in the South, said Councilman Morrie Kelsven, himself an avid golfer.

Kelsven said he would like to see the service extended to Village Green, another city-owned golf course.

Jim Larson, finance director of the Fargo Park District, said none of Fargo's five public courses has GPS-equipped carts, though officials will closely monitor how they go over at The Meadows.

Johnson said the lease will cost $47,000 in 2005. Most of that expense will be paid with the $40,000 raised from businesses advertising on the system, he said.

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The balance is expected to be made up by slightly increased green fees and cart rentals, he said.

Johnson said last year about one in three players rented carts for about 10,000 total cart rentals. He hopes half of the players will rent a cart this year.

Cart rental costs $13 per person, a 50-cent increase over last year, he said.

Johnson said the response so far has been positive.

"A lot of people have been saying it speeds up play," he said.

Kris Friesen, relaxing in the clubhouse after a round with his threesome last week, said he agrees a GPS unit quickens the pace.

"It probably saves you five minutes a round," he said.

The 32-year-old Moorhead man said he thinks the computerized carts will be a draw for the course.

"I think you'll get people coming out there just for that," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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