A Colorado club adopted a high-tech option to ensure precise yardage markers for a nine-hole addition to its course offerings.


A laser rangefinder determines the distance from a sprinkler head to the center of a green using a laser reflector situated in the center of the green. Photo courtesy of Underhill International

It’s the hectic-summer challenge of most golf courses: keeping each group moving forward without unnecessary delays in play. In an attempt to preserve pace, some clubs have experimented with GPS on golf carts to help golfers determine the distance from the fairway to the center of the green, but those systems can be sidelined by maintenance issues. Tech-savvy golfers have tried hand-held GPS units, yet the use of those can be time-consuming, and they aren’t always accurate.

Now, traditional tactics have met modern innovation in the form of today’s laser-measured markers, which offer exceptional accuracy and reliability while improving playability on even the busiest weekends. 

That’s the fact, Jack

“Yardage marking became an exact science thanks to Jack Nicklaus,” says Brian Carson, a specialist in marker measurement and installation at Underhill International. “Nicklaus elevated the methodology, introducing critical course management. His caddies were among the first to pinpoint yardage distances.”

Carson says busy courses are now taking advantage of the latest laser technology and high-visibility markers to both keep players attuned to the course and assist in club selection. “Players are never more than 20 yards from a yardage-marked sprinkler, so there’s no delay or guesswork,” he says.

A facility that has begun employing these technological advancements to guarantee accurate yardage markers was The Glacier Club, a private 36-hole golf course and community nestled in a glacier-carved valley near the San Juan Mountains, about 20 miles north of Durango, Colo. The panoramic Mountain Course was designed by Todd Schoeder and three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin. They looked to the land’s dramatic topography, with peaks rising to 14,000 feet, and extraordinary rock formations to inspire the course’s unique strategy and playability. The older Valley Course was designed by Arthur Hills in the 1970s and has been modernized with new bunkering, hazards and challenging doglegs.

The Glacier Club recently added a second nine holes to complete the 18-hole loop that is the Mountain Course. The new nine features Toro Infinity Series sprinkler heads with the company’s Smart Access covers and was outfitted with approximately 250 engraved, color-filled yardage markers from Underhill.

“Having at-a-glance yardages is a boon to any course, as it allows for a more rapid, accurate pace of play,” says Tobin Sexton, the irrigation specialist at The Glacier Club. “Our course is not the most forgiving, and the elevation changes lead to some deceptive shots, so having yardages readily available makes the day easier and more enjoyable for players. Most of our membership have a rangefinder in their bag, but with nearby, easy-to-read yardages, the need to pull them out is minimized.”

For the fresh nine, Sexton decided on a modified “turnkey solution” from Underhill, which provided laser measurements and marker installation. The company’s complete turnkey package includes a site inspection/analysis, updated irrigation diagram, laser measurements and installation. Because the Glacier Club expansion was new, the club already had up-to-date irrigation plans created by Sexton, which showed the location and model of all heads. Carson, who oversaw the installation, was then able to record the yardages directly onto the plans, saving time and cost. 

Site inspection and analysis

Older courses tend to upgrade their sprinklers over time with a blend of brands, and often do not have up-to-date diagrams. When the time comes to update their yardage markers, these facilities often require a site inspection and complete re-measure, because heads may have been added or moved, and turf areas could have been changed (especially in the western United States). With a site inspection, each head is properly pinpointed on a new diagram or an as-built, showing fairways, bunkers, hazards, locations and yardages. Leaky or broken heads are also identified and called out for maintenance. “Once this survey is completed, the updated irrigation diagram becomes a valuable tool for the superintendent,” says Carson.

To determine yardage marker placement, Carson uses a TruPulse Laser Rangefinder with Bushnell optics. He measures from the sprinkler head (point A) to the center of the green (point B), which is marked by a 5-foot reflector. He verifies the center of the green by measuring the length of the green, then dividing by two. The fluorescent reflector is placed at the center point as a benchmark from which all laser measurements are made. Carson then walks the fairway to locate each head, and shoots the measurement from the head to the center point. Distances are calculated by measuring the speed of light as it hits the reflector.

The TruPulse laser beam can also instantly measure slope, inclination and azimuth, and it can calculate horizontal and vertical distances. Because the rangefinder is waterproof, measurements can be obtained in all weather conditions.

Following site inspection and measurement, markers are generally manufactured and delivered within two weeks. A facility’s irrigation team typically installs them, with assistance from a company field rep when necessary. “We set up irrigation flags to indicate the exact location for the new markers while the crew turns the screwdrivers,” says Carson. “It takes a couple days.”

Today’s markers are available in an exceptional range of styles — engraved caps, engraved metal discs, snap-in markers, bond-in markers and more, depending on a course’s preference — and with custom options for popular sprinkler brands, including Toro, Rain Bird and Hunter. In western states with greater demands on irrigation, there are usually 30 markers per hole on a typical par 4, and 45 markers per hole on a par 5. Par-3 tees as well as high-visibility heads along cart paths are also marked.

Carson recently worked with Old Ranch Country Club, an 18-hole course in Seal Beach, Calif., which has a mix of old and new Rain Bird Eagle 700s, but no markers. Carson prepared a new set of diagrams identifying each head for the superintendent’s files based on the original as-builts. He is also overseeing a complete installation, placing more than 600 yardage markers.

Back at The Glacier Club, Sexton says the process of adding new yardage markers on the Mountain Course was a relatively simple one for the club’s maintenance team. “The efficiency of the measurements and the convenience of the installation moved the project along quickly,” he says. He also notes the positive effect the yardage markers have had on pace of play for golfers tackling the new nine.

Nancy Hardwick is the owner of Hardwick Creative Services, based in Encinitas, Calif.