Could Drones Replace Snoopy Blimps? 0 16

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) Sept. 12, 2011 – Could Snoopy One and Two be sent to the old puppy home, their jobs outsourced to unmanned aerial vehicles about to take to U.S. skies?

The venerable MetLife blimps have produced gorgeous shots of golf shots and holes at PGA Tour events since 1987. But Congress has ordered the FAA to write rules by 2015 allowing lightweight UAVs to fly in U.S. airspace for civilian purposes – including aerial photography.

To date, more than two dozen civilian entities, including two New Mexico universities, have received authority to test drones for uses as diverse as wildlife tracking, surveying archaeological sites, GIS mapping, tracking oil spills – even shooting movies. It’s only a matter of time before someone obtains authority to photograph a sporting event from a drone.

One manufacturer vying for a share of what is estimated to be an $11 billion market over the next 10 years is Silent Falcon UAS Technologies, an Albuquerque startup that has developed a lightweight, hand-launched propeller-driven UAV. Its drone carries a fully gimbaled, gyro-stabilized HD camera and downlink gear.

Thin-film photovoltaic panels on the upper wing surfaces of the Silent Falcon drone allow it to stay aloft for up to 14 hours, according to the company.

“From 100 feet away, it is basically silent,” John Brown, CEO of Silent Falcon, said of his product’s electrically driven six-bladed propeller. “They have incredible endurance and almost insignificant operating costs.”

Under the FAA’s guidelines, drones undergoing testing must be controlled by an operator maintaining line-of-sight contact – easy enough for an operator at a golf tournament in a crane or tower. The Silent Falcon can be flown manually or can be programmed to fly via pre-plotted GPS waypoints.

Silent Falcon is one of only a few non-defense UAV contractors entering the field; most drones being developed are for military, intelligence or police use. The expected cost of the Silent Falcon when production is slated to begin next year is $250,000-$300,000, Brown said.

Contrast that to manned blimps, which annually cost $6 million to $8 million to operate and require an aircrew of two and ground crew of 14.

Let’s be clear: MetLife remains the official aerial photo platform of the PGA Tour and will continue to offer breathtaking shots from 1,500 feet of golf balls in flight.

But a fair question is: When will the the steady drone of Snoopy’s motors be replaced by the fleeting shadow of something akin to a silent falcon?

— Dan Vukelich

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PING CEO: Change the Golf Ball, Save the Courses 0 4

(PHOENIX) Jan. 3, 2012 –The chairman and CEO of Ping says three different balls should be approved by rule-makers — one longer, one the same as and one shorter than balls currently approved for play.

Shorter balls could then be mandated as a condition of play on classic courses hosting PGA Tour events — keeping them competitive. Longer balls could be allowed for amateur play. Ball distance could even be factored into handicaps — like course slope ratings, says PING head John Solheim.

The proposal is a radical departure from the principle underlying the Rules of Golf that a single ball with a single distance limit be played by players at all levels, even though many golf authorities believe the length of the modern golf ball is the single biggest factor in making some of the great courses of the 19th and 20th centuries obsolete for professional play.

In a letter to the USGA and the R&A, Solheim proposed  a “Ball Distance Rating System” to categorize balls into three distance categories. “This concept addresses the unique talents of the top 0.1 percent of the world’s golfers without hurting the other 99.9 percent,” Solheim said.

A “silver dot” rating could apply to balls that conform to the current distance limits, a “gold dot” rating to balls that are longer (perhaps 30 yards longer), and a “bronze dot” rating for balls that are shorter than today’s ball limit (again, maybe 30 yards shorter),” Solheim said.

“More BDR levels could be added, if needed, to address future increases in driving distance by Tour professionals,” he said.

“Most courses hosting professional tour events were built with, or have added, sufficient length to challenge the world’s best golfers. Perhaps a small number of tournaments, those played at some of the game’s classic courses, would find it exciting to put the original design elements of the layout back in play by requiring shorter rated golf balls,” he said.

Higher handicappers could play a longer ball to make them competitive against longer courses, Solheim said.

Click here for John Solheim’s complete statement.

Lobos’ Davie to Get Golf-Club Membership 0 14

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) Dec. 2, 2011 — Bob Davie, the University of New Mexico’s new football coach, will get a country-club membership has part of his compensation package — but local golfers are asking, at which one?

There are only three country clubs  in Albuquerque: Four Hills Country Club, Tanoan Country Club and Albuquerque Country Club.

Which one would be a good fit for the former Notre Dame coach-turned-broadcaster charged with turning around the worst team in Division I football? You decide:

Four Hills Country Club, in the far Southeast Heights, is by far the best club layout in town. Hilly, surrounded by rambling ranch-style 1960s and 70s homes, it lies in a fashionable area. Four Hills has all the amenities, tennis courts, swimming pool and formal dining room.

The downside is that Four Hills has a declining golf membership, driven by a tsunami of debt that past managers  took on to pay for a new irrigation system and to rebuild two golf holes — right before the economy tanked.

Albuquerque Country Club, nestled south and west of downtown, is the city’s oldest and is home to Albuquerque’s “old’ money.

It is surrounded by old, majestic housing stock in the Country Club and Huning Castle neighborhoods. The club’s main dining room was recently renovated to keep up with the bustling coat-and-tie business-lunch crowd from nearby Downtown. ACC is  heavy with old-school perks and service staff.

The downside is that while ACC’s tree-lined fairways make for a pleasant walk, its 18-hole layout is pancake-flat. Its members were once indisputably the movers and shakes of the city, and many still are, but demographically ACC’s membership is significantly older.

The no-brainer is Tanoan Country Club, the city’s newest club,  up in the far, far Northeast Heights and home to the city’s “new” money. Tanoan, built in the 1980s, lies within the walls of a gated community. Its 27 holes sprawl across significant elevation changes, making Tanoan tough, tight and challenging. Great views abound.

Tanoan’s housing stock is large and spacious, tending toward columns, arches and vaulted ceilings befitting the city’s newly anointed football royalty. Its clubhouse has the bustling feel of a center of the city’s club-related commerce.  Its membership is heavy on brokerage, real-estate, insurance and financial services professionals who inhabit the glass buildings of Uptown Albuquerque — the very people the new football coach likely needs to cultivate as boosters.

But there is a dark horse: The struggling University of New Mexico Championship Golf Course near the airport.

Recently, a focus group comprising friends of the golf course, including a past UNM president, asked why UNM doesn’t insist that its alumni and UNM athletic fundraising events bet held at the UNM course, which is under the gun from the regents to reduce its operating deficit and start showing a profit.

Although it is a daily-fee course, with sketchy food service and infrastructure problems, UNM has one of the best layouts in the state and has a history with the NCAA.

If Davie were to become associated with the UNM golf course it would go a long way to plugging him into the soul of Loboland, and would help UNM stave off pressure to sell or close the golf course. It could be the kind of win-win that would hasten Davie’s acceptance into his new community.

— Dan Vukelich