It was around 11 a.m. — about an hour after the morning’s frost had lifted — and Garrett Bastardi, flanked by about 100 other golfers, was still patiently waiting with friends for a 9:30 a.m. tee time at a North Carolina golf course.
“I was doing the math in my head,” Bastardi said. “If you lose an hour on a weekend, that’s $3,000 right there. So, if you can provide a service that gives golf courses the best information then they can make their investment in that service back pretty quickly.”
That’s when he began to see the powerful effect that weather can have on the game for both fans and the profit margins for golf professionals.
He wasn’t alone. And the result is T3: Turf Threat Tracker, an app-based weather modeling tool designed for turf management experts created by four meteorology professionals with ties to Penn State.
According to the team, the tool utilizes the most detailed weather models available and offers industry specific information such as frost formation and dissipation, incoming solar radiation and plant canopy moisture. High resolution models of less than two square miles are about 10 times the resolution of the most commonly used weather models for forecasting weather, the team said, which means they can be more accurate for specific courses.
The tools can help golf course managers save on precious resources such as water and costly fertilizers and other treatments, the team said, by helping managers determine the best times to water and apply products.
The team consists of co-founders and meteorology and atmospheric science graduates Herb Stevens, 1975; Andrew Moffitt, 2018; Steve Hallett, 2018; and Bastardi, a senior majoring in political science.
When designing the beta version, the group reached out to about 50 course managers and got feedback on data that would be most beneficial to them. They continued to work with these managers to fine-tune the usability of the app.
“They looked it over and told us what they needed, and with that direction we were able to tailor our product,” Moffitt said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful so far. We had a big testing pool of all these courses that told us essentially what the industry wants, and we were able to deliver that.”
Since launching in April, T3 has had immediate success. More than 100 golf courses have signed up for their free trial and, since then, more than one-third have signed up for their $900 annual subscription that includes the app and access to golf-minded meteorologists via email, text and telephone. Among their clients are about a dozen of the top 100 golf courses in the United States and Canada and four of the top 10.
And with roughly 16,000 golf courses in the region, the team sees plenty of room to grow.
Moffitt said Penn State’s well-rounded approach, which teaches the fundamentals of weather, computer modeling and communication, gave him and his team the tools they needed to create this and other startups. They’re also working with experts in Penn State’s turfgrass program to expand the app to include disease alerts and detection.
The team has an extensive background in weather, the golf industry, and startups. Stevens was the chief meteorologist for the NBC affiliate in Albany, New York, and one of the original on-camera meteorologists for The Weather Channel. He’s a former amateur PGA Tour caddy and competitor and started Grass Roots Weather, a forecasting service for golf course superintendents. Moffitt, a former on-air meteorologist, co-founded Innovation Weather, LLC, based on algorithms he created in college, and ultimately sold the company after graduating. Hallett co-founded Innovation Weather as well as SunsetWx, a sunrise and sunset forecasting tool that partnered with The Weather Channel. Innovation Weather and SunsetWx benefited from Penn State Happy Valley LaunchBox, an initiative that aims be the hub that connects entrepreneurs to the support, resources and facilities they need to build a sustainable and scalable business with a viable plan for growth.
Bastardi said it’s great to merge two of his passions — weather and golf — and for the team to create something of value to the industry.
“This is a business as much as it is weather and golf. It’s about people as well. We’re all venture capitalists and we think it’s a little bit cooler to make a job than to find a job,” Bastardi said. “It’s been an opportunity to address more than just the weather bug we have in us.”
*This story is informational in nature and should not be considered an endorsement of any product or application.