RealTime IT News

Golf the Wireless Way

Fore! GPS Industries, a somewhat unusual Wi-Fi company, is looking to score a hole in one with its innovative golf course management system that combines Wi-Fi and GPS (Global Positioning System) technologies. Golf legend and industry kingpin Greg Norman — the Great White Shark — thinks GPS Industries is on to something. Norman agreed to sit on the firm's board of directors.

The success of one of the company's first deployments of the product, at the prestigious Mayfair Lakes Golf and Country Club near Vancouver, British Columbia, suggests the company is on target. Mayfair claims to have doubled cart rental revenues in the five months since installing a Wi-Fi network and the company's ruggedized Wi-Fi/GPS tablet PCs on its carts.

The tablets help golfers play the course better by giving them precise positioning and video game-like graphic representations of the holes. They help the course track golfers' progress and communicate with them wirelessly. This is just the beginning of what the technology can do, says GPS Industries vice president of sales and marketing, Blake Ponuick.

"The ability to have real time communications with golfers over the Wi-Fi network creates an entire new business opportunity for the course," Ponuick says. "It's not only a device for the golfer now, it's a business tool for the course."

GPS Industries, a public company, has been around for nine years. Its core technology uses GPS satellites to position golfers on a course. The original product was a handheld device, still sold, that provides basic GPS positioning and course graphics. It tells golfers the distance to the pin and shows where out-of-sight traps are lurking. Golfers use the information to help decide on club selection and tactics for playing the hole.

"It was primarily designed for the recreational golfer," Ponuick says. "Caddies for tour pros already have this information in their heads — the exact number of paces to the front of the green from anywhere on the course, for example. We're just conveying the same kind of information to recreational golfers."

The new technology GPS Industries started selling earlier this year includes ruggedized tablet PCs mounted on the dashboards of golf carts in place of the handheld devices. They offer bigger and better graphics, but also support many new applications.

"It had to be a product designed for outdoors that could withstand the elements," Ponuick says of the cart PCs. "We spent a tremendous amount of time and money on research and development, working with Astro Instrumentation, a company that manufactures medical equipment." GPS Industries also worked with Sharp Electronics to develop an LCD display that would show up in bright sunlight. It uses special filters and "transflective" technology to solve the usual problems LCDs suffer in bright light. "More sunlight actually increases visibility on our screens," Ponuick says. "This is unique to us. Nobody else has focused on this problem in the same way."

The new offering is a complete turnkey system that includes the cart-mounted units, Wi-Fi network infrastructure, application and network management software. The company typically arranges lease financing from leasing companies that specialize in the golf industry. Coupled with monthly maintenance and support fees, it gives the course a predictable monthly cost. Complete systems range in price from about $80,000 to $240,000 with 80 golf cart units.