Hunting hot spots with FLIR

During my visit to Whistling Straits for 97th PGA Championship, I was able to test a piece of technology that can further improve water management on golf course turf; especially as we strive for firmer and faster conditions. I was able to show that Forward Looking Infrared technology (FLIR) can find hot spots before they are visible. FLIR technology (thermal cameras) has been around for a while. But like TDR probes, which were extremely expensive a decade ago, the price of FLIR camera has come down sustainably. Now these cameras can be easily attached to a smart phone for less than $375. I’ve added a new video explaining how to use this technology to scout soil moisture our YouTube channel.

Here are a few tips successfully use FLIR technology to find dry spots.

  • Be sure to manually set the temperature range. The default auto-scaling feature looks cool but makes it impossible to scout for subtle differences in surface temperature. Set the low and high temperature ranges a few degrees below and above the average temperature of the well- watered turf.
  • Temperature differences are only obvious when it’s sunny. FLIR won’t detect hot spots early in the morning or late afternoon when the sun angle is low. Differences won’t be obvious on days with heavy overcast or fog/mist.
  • Steep slopes can be deceiving. Slopes that face the sun will be warmer than a flat area. Confirm soil moisture with a TDR probe.
  • Turf impacted by root diseases will appear hot (summer patch, take-all patch, and pythium root rot/dysfunction), but the soil my not be dry. Check the soil moisture. FLIR can be a great way to find those areas and help keep them alive during summer.

Bill Kreuser, Assistant Professor, Extension Turfgrass Specialist,