turfRad: When mowers replace moisture meters

The Swiss company TerraRad Tech has developed turfRad, a moisture scanner to be installed behind lawnmowers on golf courses or sports fields. The tool also makes it possible to know precisely the moisture levels on the fairways and to produce maps. 

Data is playing an increasingly important, even essential, role in the maintenance of golf courses and sports fields. Among the data scrutinized, the moisture content present in the soil is one of the variants to be mastered by all professionals. Currently, greenkeepers on the market can use moisture probes or TDRs to obtain data at a specific point. The disadvantage of these tools is that they do not allow you to have the moisture level of a large area unless you multiply the control points. An operation that would be very tedious. 

To address this problem, TerraRad Tech has developed a moisture scanner called turfRad. This solution was designed in collaboration with ASB taskTracker course management system to make soil moisture sensing technology more informative and actionable. “Our high-resolution soil moisture maps allow users to harness the potential of these systems by providing the information needed to optimally control irrigation, fertilizers and weather. turfRad enables full control of course conditions, firmness, and uniformity through data-informed management,” says Derek Houtz, CEO of TerraRad Tech. 

turfRad in Paris

turfRad Sensor Overview

Moisture sensors mount on fairway mowers and most triplex machines. The sensors can also be modified to be mounted on mowers and other maintenance machines. 

The turfRad sensor measures microwaves naturally emitted in the L-band, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum defined by the frequency of 1 to 2 gigahertz. “Water in the soil changes the emission of microwaves, which allows us to quantify the volumetric water content or moisture in the soil,” adds the CEO. This technology is used by ESA and NASA to detect soil moisture levels on a global scale, but satellites cannot be accurate enough at the scale of a golf course. 

10,000 measurements per fairway to better manage irrigation

turfRad can measure moisture content up to 10 cm deep. The measurement provided is the average moisture content of the top 10 cm of the surface. It can make 10,000 measurements per fairway during a normal mowing operation. 

Thanks to this extensive data, the taskTracker interface can offer a very precise route map to its steward. The latter can set alerts when the average humidity exceeds or is below the set threshold. It also allows the user to quickly identify areas that need more or less watering and locate failures in the irrigation system such as pressure issues, blocked nozzles or leaks.

Fairway with turfRad
Figure 1 Example of a fairway map after the sensor has passed. Dry areas appear in red.

The entire solution could even be directly linked to irrigation systems in the future. “We are working on integration with irrigation systems that will allow our data to automatically monitor sprinkler run times to achieve desired soil moisture levels and optimize uniformity,” adds Derek Houtz. 

Feedback from Lucas Pierré

Today, 35 golf courses use turfRad. Among them, we find the Golf National, which will soon host the golf event of the 2024 Olympic Games. Its steward, Lucas Pierré, is already seduced by the technology, which he has only been using since May 2024. “The fairways are the surface where there is the most area. Going to do TDR on the fairways is very complicated. turfRad allows us to do what we already do on the greens, which is to accurately monitor humidity levels. The ultimate goal is also to reduce fungal pressure by limiting moisture in the soil and to reduce water consumption. We already knew, at Le Golf National, that some fairways dried out faster than others because they are close to the lake or exposed in such a way, with this technology we can quantify it,” says the superintendent. 

This article is written by Corentin Richard, a journalist at Gazon Sport Pro H24. You can find the original version on their website.