At the 2016 Golf Industry Show in San Diego, I was once again amazed at the introduction of new gadgets and gizmos introduced by industry suppliers. In my years covering the industry, I’ve met numerous individuals who spend their days working on future products and technologies to help make golf course superintendents’ lives easier.

Considering what these people do – helping superintendents through technology to appease ever-demanding golfers – they are simply the unsung heroes of the industry.

So it’s fun to think about what the golf course maintenance industry will look like in 10, 25 and 50 years. Will robots mow the turf, spray pesticides and even cut cups on greens? Heck, some of this technology is already available, and you can bet your pocketknife that even more of it is on the drawing board.

But I recently read an article in Time magazine – an interview with Klaus Schwab – that made me wonder how much technology is too much technology. Schwab, if you don’t know, is a German engineer and economist who is also the founder of the World Economic Forum, a not-for-profit foundation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Obviously, technology plays a huge role in the organization’s mission.

But in the article, Schwab warned about the long-term consequences of being dominated by technology – and the importance of becoming a more human society. He said human beings exist because of the brain, heart and soul, the latter two of which can’t be replaced.

“What we can replicate in a robot is the brain,” Schwab said. “But you will never replicate the heart, which is passion and compassion. And the soul, which enables us to believe.”

Schwab’s words made me stop and reread them again and again. While he wasn’t exactly calling to put the brakes on technology, his view on the importance of the human element in the equation was refreshing – and spot on.

You don’t need to go too far to see an example of the negative impact that technology is having on our world. Me, I just look at my two teenagers, who both have cellphones but rarely use them to have a human conversation. They communicate by typing letters on a small keyboard.

But technology is amazing, too. Just look around your maintenance facility. Some of the equipment you have could be classified as a technological marvel. What would you do without it?

But the last thing we want is for technology to take the heart and soul out of the golf course maintenance industry, which brings to mind this story. A few years ago, Kevin Smith, the vice president/director of agronomy for Pinnacle Golf Properties in Greensboro, North Carolina, was cruising Bryan Park Golf Course in his utility vehicle on a sweltering day when he spotted a foursome of hot and sweaty golfers. Smith then returned to the course’s clubhouse, grabbed four bottles of water and delivered them to the golfers, who were grateful and positively stunned by his action.

Klaus, who said, “We need to emphasize the more human aspect in leadership as a counterweight to all of these technological advances,” would undoubtedly applaud Smith’s action.

Going forward, the golf course maintenance industry needs to find a balance between offering the ultimate in technology, but without disbanding the irreplaceable human element in the process.

The four parched golfers on Smith’s golf course will attest to that.


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