Golf the Wireless Way - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell

October 14, 2004

The company begins work at a course by coming in with GPS-based mapping tools and doing a detailed survey that produces a blueprint from which it can render the very realistic graphic representations. Then it implements a Wi-Fi network that provides ubiquitous coverage over the entire course. It includes a central hub and server at the clubhouse and from two to six repeaters (router and access point) around the course. GPS Industries custom configures the Wi-Fi infrastructure equipment, which is mostly ORiNOCO gear from Proxim .

The Wi-Fi coverage serves multiple functions and, according to GPS Industries, can pay dividends for the course in many ways. It first allows the company to implement differential GPS locationing — basically the system uses Wi-Fi locationing data to fine tune and correct the GPS data. Where a basic GPS system will provide accuracy to within a few yards, the hybrid technology can achieve accuracy to within about a foot, Ponuick says.

The Wi-Fi locationing system can also precisely track golfers as they play the course. This allows management to gather cumulative data about where greens and fairways are getting the most wear and tear, which in turn helps them decide where maintenance work is needed and when they should schedule re-positioning of pins on the greens. Course marshals can also see in real time when a slow-playing group is causing a bottleneck and either dispatch somebody to politely ask them to move on or send a message to the cart-mounted PC.

Golfers can use the wireless network to order ahead for food from the clubhouse or an on-course snack station. Ponuick claims this will increase refreshment revenues. Golfers typically order something quick and cheap, such as a hotdog, while they're out on the course, because they have to get on to the next hole and can't wait for something to be prepared. Now they can order something more elaborate, and expensive, like a clubhouse sandwich, and it's ready for them when they swing by the club house or snack bar.

The Wi-Fi network may also keep golfers at the course longer. "Some golfers are what the courses call trunk slammers," Ponuick explains. "They finish a round, throw their clubs in the trunk and rush back to the office. But if the course can get them to go inside and [use the Wi-Fi network to] check their e-mail with a laptop, now maybe they'll stay and eat lunch or have a few more drinks. They're not only generating some revenue from Internet access, it's also keeping them at the golf course, spending money."

Some courses want to attract convention business. For them, the Wi-Fi network can extend high-speed Internet access into clubhouse meeting rooms. They may be able to charge a little more for rental of the rooms as a result, Ponuick says. Tournaments are another increasingly important source of revenues for many courses. The GPS Industries product includes tournament management software that uses the Wi-Fi network for instantly updating leader boards.

Advertising is yet another potential source of revenue made possible by the Wi-Fi network. The course can push banner ads to the cart units along with the graphics of the holes and food ordering screens. The system even allows them to push ads according to a unit's location on the course. A real estate broker advertising a home for sale that backs on to the course could have it timed to appear on the screens of the cart-mounted PCs as the golfers approach the property.

Some courses may be able to use the Wi-Fi infrastructure to link remote buildings on the course. In one case, a course was on the point of spending $75,000 to lay fiber to link a maintenance facility to the main club house. "We pointed out that our product could totally eliminate the need to spend that $75,000," Ponuick says. "And if that facility moves or they put another up, they can use wireless to link it. too. It can mean a significant capital saving."

Management could also use the network to communicate with maintenance workers equipped with PDAs or even Wi-Fi VoIP phones while they're out on the course.

Ponuick claims that implementing and maintaining the full GPS/Wi-Fi system will cost most courses about $1 to $1.50 per round of golf played. They should be able to recoup that small amount and more from the applications the system makes possible. It's a convincing case, and courses are apparently buying it. The company has already implemented 11 full-blown systems and expects to hit 30 by end of year.

GPS Industries makes some innovative use of Wi-Fi technology — for differential locationing and applications such as feeding tournament leader boards — but what's more interesting about this company is the way it has so thoroughly worked through the business cases and return on investment (ROI) scenarios for its target market. There is a lesson for others marketing Wi-Fi systems: know your prospective customers' business inside out and tailor the technology to respond to real problems or to generate real opportunities.

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