|By Ryan Hill, Times Editor
Butter Valley Golf Port has added a new, high-tech twist to an old game. Golfers heading to the lynx at the Bally course may now take advantage of satellite technology as they hack their way from green to green. The course, given its name because of the runway that slices through it, added GPS or Global Positioning Systems to each of its 80 carts this January. The systems, which operate off the Department of Defense's constellation of 24 satellites, not only tell golfers how far they have to the middle of the green from anywhere on the course, they also let them know yardage to fairway bunkers and other course hazards.
"It's like having a caddy that knows the course," said Butter Valley owner John Gehman, who developed an interest in the, systems while playing a course in Florida that he'd never played before. "I played very well, but there was a confidence factor. It built up my confidence to hit the ball better," said Gehman, who would otherwise have had a more difficult time with club selection on a course unknown to him.
The systems, which can also highlight tips for playing each hole, benefit more than just those on the fairways. Linked to a terminal inside the course's clubhouse - a barn Gehman's father converted when he gave up dairy farming nearly 30 years ago - the Systems enable course directors Mike Matlock and Ron Schott to monitor play. Sitting before the system's large monitor, the directors can see where each cart is at any time -whether meandering through a wooded area; on the runway, which is restricted; or on a fairway where carts aren't allowed.
Matlock and Schott can also tell whether golfers are keeping pace. With the course pace of three hours and 50 minutes set in the computer, the system can highlight those ahead of pace, slightly behind pace and those more than 10 percent behind pace. In the latter case, the numbered cart on the screen shows up in red.
For those not quite at the 10 percent and over mark, their cart appears yellow. In the case of a red tag, the directors' terminal sends the plod-ding players a message that they're slowing play. Until the players acknowledge receipt of the message, they don't receive the benefits of the GPS system.
Beyond the messages to speed up, the system automatically sends a message for those driving on fairways they shouldn't and can send any personalized message the directors' desire. "We'd rather have four people upset with us than the 80 behind them," Matlock said of the messages sent to slow golfers. "It's a help to the golf course 'It's a help to the golfer. It's a win-win situation," he said. He said the systems, found at large courses down south and at some resorts, aren't prevalent in this area. However, he said he expects their popularity to increase.
He also admits that he's a bit of a golf traditionalist and wasn't sold on the idea at first. "I wasn't really sold on it until I used it," said Matlock, adding that the system offers everyday golfers the same advantage pro golfers get through the detailed booklets they receive at each tournament. "The pros have all the information. Why shouldn't all the golfers have that information?" he said.
Aside from increasing efficiency on the golf course and aiding golfers in club selection, reports available through the system will help the course in setting up maintenance schedules for its carts and help the directors to determine the number of staff needed at different times.
What the system can't do, however, is hit the ball, so golfers can still expect to hear the occasional "Four" and duck for cover.
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