Fire in the Hole-in-One

We’ve got the club, the tee, the ball. There’s the flag, too, but just how far away?

The distance to the hole: It’s a piece of information golfers covet. At the same time, golf course managers would love to know where their golf carts are at any given moments.

The wireless gurus at GPS Industries Inc. (GPSI) in Vancouver, British Columbia say they can deliver just this kind of data with a combination of GPS and Wi-Fi technologies.

Called “The Inforemer,” their solution begins with a GPS mapping of the entire course, including the distance to hazards and holes. Using this map, a cart-mounted GPS unit relays geographical information to golfers, while a Wi-Fi connection keeps the clubhouse informed as to the cart’s location.

“On the clubhouse computer you would have a large scale with a representation of all the holes, and you would be able to see where all the carts are all around the course,” says Peter Lesyk, Vice President of Wireless Solutions at GPSI. This positioning information allows a manager at the clubhouse to watch for bottlenecks on the course and even text message a slow-moving cart.

Lesyk describes a range of potential revenue and service opportunities for golf club operators.

On the service side, operators could use the Wi-Fi link to send out scores from ongoing PGA tournaments. Golfer also could use the Wi-Fi connection to order lunch from the clubhouse restaurant. In terms of revenue, the on-cart screens could become an advertising venue.

GPSI already has plenty of takers for the system, which runs $200,000 to $250,000 for an 80-cart installation. In 2004, Lesyk says, the company sold 10 units. In 2005, it moved 35 units. Lesyk expects to hit 65 systems this year.

There is competition on the greens, from companies such as ProLink and UpLink. Lesyk says GPSI uses a mix of GPS and proprietary technology, which gives his Wi-Fi solution an edge. “Because we have chosen Wi-Fi for our bandwidth, we have a high speed network on our course along with a technology that is universally accepted by the industry,” he says.

If that isn’t enough to convince club owners to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars, GPSI has a lighter offering known as “Fire at the Flag,” a hole-in-one competition program intended as an introductory product.

“We map out a specific par three hole of a specific course and then we would have a GPS unit there, exactly where the tee off box is, and we give the player the exact distance to the tee location that day,” Lesyk explains. Those who nail a hole-in-one are invited to compete against others for a prize of up to $1 million.

“Fire at the Flag gives the course and the players a taste of our technology,” Lesyk says.

Analysts say that key figure – distance from tee to flag – could be a prime selling point for a system such as The Inforemer.

“Golfers do get into debates about exactly how far a particular shot is, so this is an interesting way to settle those bets,” says Craig Mathias, a principal with wireless consulting firm Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass.

In theory, the Wi-Fi nature of the network could allow course managers to parlay that basic information into a wider range of products. “There’s a lot more that we can do once we have this network in place,” Lesyk says.

For example, a club could set itself up as a wireless Internet service provider, with GPSI handling such back-end functions as payment processing and helpdesk, all through a revenue sharing arrangement. The advantage to the course operator? “The golfers stay longer after their rounds, and they are purchasing more food and drinks,” Lesyk says.

And if all that still doesn’t sell it, there’s always a famous face, in this case golf legend Greg Norman. A major shareholder in the company, he’s been out there pitching hard. “He has been quite instrumental for us in terms of introductions and helping us to bring our system to the golf courses he designs,” Lesyk says.

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