America has a big golf and geese problem. It has for decades.
The big, nosy birds have grunted and hissed their way across fairways since, well, forever, and while we can thank our friends to the north for sending us the bulk of these often angry nuisances, we can’t really blame them for turning our gorgeous green stretches of fairways and greens — especially those with lakes, ponds and streams — into must-stops (and must-stays) along the Canadian goose’s regular migratory corridors.
That ain’t Canada’s fault. It’s just nature and manmade creations colliding once again, in this case to very messy, smelly and sometimes confrontational ends.
Who among us hasn’t discovered a perfect tee shot nestled up against a fresh “goose” gift, or shooed an aggressive avian adversary away just to be able to settle in and hit the next shot?
Who hasn’t seen the damage these creatures can do to otherwise pristine greens?
And who hasn’t smiled and sighed in relief at the sight of a well-trained dog riding shotgun in the superintendent’s cart, panting at the chance to chase off the next flock?
That’s one of the many images I’ve carried through the decades from my earliest golfing days in the little California burg of Bishop, a high-desert oasis whose single golf course is rife with reed-ringed ponds that are simply irresistible to any self-respecting goose. The greenskeeper back then, a quiet, gentle dude we called Doc, would come tumbling down a cart path with his trusty canine cohort (the pooch’s name escapes me), and moments later the offending feathered invaders would fly off in a fluttering huff.
Of course, they’d be back again hours or even minutes later, especially when my animal-loving dad showed up with his big bag of breadcrumbs. The birds could see him coming three fairways away, and he’d oblige their noisy pleas with handfuls of stale Sheepherder’s Bread from famed Schat’s Dutch Bakery downtown.
I loved him for it, but could have done without the geese.
This all leads me to bring up this article about two enterprising Texas college kids who decided to tackle the goose-vs.-golf problem with groundbreaking artificial intelligence technology. A sponsorship from a tech firm in California allowed them to build BADG-R, a small, amphibious, remote-controlled robot that looks like a pint-sized all-terrain vehicle without the upper cage and seats. Here’s the story’s video, which shows the machine in action:
The students will present their project at the International Symposium on Measurement and Control in Robotics on Sept. 19. Who knows where it will go from there — onto the goose-glutted golf courses of America and beyond, perhaps?
The bird-seeking gadget probably isn’t what U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang had in mind when he made the encroachment of robotics into every corner of modern life the centerpiece of his campaign pitch. But it does have the potential to put a helluva lot of dedicated dogs out of a job, and I’m not sure I’m cool with that.
The story does give those dogs their due, then dismisses them for the simple reason that they need to take a break once in a while. And sure, they can make a mess of their own. But I’m stubbornly old school in this discussion: I’d much rather greet a friendly Australian Shepherd as he goes about his crucial goose-chasing duties than yet another whirring, soulless gadget.
I acknowledge that technology has helped the modern golfer in myriad ways, from motorized carts (including “push” carts that still allow a guy some much-needed exercise), to GPS units and apps, to swing analysis systems that, while powerful, haven’t quite replaced human teachers. Yet.
Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, every dog should still have his day out there in the sun, doing what he was born to do. Let’s not allow A.I. to kick out K9 just yet.
I’m sure ol’ Doc would agree, as would my old man. He loved to feed the dogs, too.