July 15, 2011


15th green

Wednesday afternoon was a gorgeous one at Sandpines.  It was sunny with a temperature of  70 degrees and no wind to speak of.  Last Sunday, was pretty much the same thing.  Combine the good weather with great playing conditions, and it makes this a great time to play golf at Sandpines.

Green surrounds aeration

This week we focused on green surrounds aeration.  The green surrounds get quite a bit of traffic within the first 10 feet or so surrounding the green.  This is mostly attributed to foot traffic and greens mowing.  This process has a minimal impact on play, but will greatly benefit the turf health.  The aeration will significantly improve infiltration and gas exchange in these areas.

Orange flag marking a sprinkler that is turned off

If you have played Sandpines recently, you may have noticed some orange flags on the course near sprinkler heads.  These flags are being used to mark sprinkler heads that have been turned off at the sprinkler.  Why manually turn sprinklers off at the sprinkler location instead of in the controller or the computer program?  This is performed when two (or more) sprinklers exists on a single station and there is a need to turn one sprinkler off while leaving one sprinkler on.  Sprinklers are a often paired up or grouped together in order to use fewer controllers and less wire, thus reducing installation costs.  However, there is a trade off.  This does not allow for individual sprinkler control when running the irrigation system.  Inevitably, there will be a station which has two sprinkler heads paired together that have different watering requirements (one sprinkler with dry areas and the sprinkler with wet areas).

In some irrigation systems, every sprinkler has a wire that is run into the control box.  In this case, sprinklers that are on the same station and have different watering requirements, can be easily regrouped .  For example, lets say there are two stations in the same controller, and each station has a sprinkler with a high water requirement (dry area) and a sprinkler with a low water requirement (wet area).  In this configuration, it nearly impossible to irrigate without over watering some areas, and under watering others unless extensive hand watering is performed.  However, the two sprinklers with high watering requirements can be grouped together on one station, and the two sprinklers with low watering requirements can be grouped together on the other station.  In order to achieve these changes, the corresponding wires are re-grouped inside the controller.  In this situation, the re-wring only takes a minute or two, and can be performed with a screw driver.  There are a few other steps required within the irrigation computer, but these are relatively easy.

In other systems (like the one at Sandpines), there is only wire per station in the irrigation control boxes regardless of the number of sprinklers per station.  That means all of the stations with more than one sprinkler are grouped together underground.  To perform the re-grouping described above, it would take the better part of a week..  It would require the use of location equipment, extensive digging, and much more wire.  The process would also be very invasive to the playing surfaces involved.  In other words, this is not a viable option in this situation.  In this case, there are some changes that can be made to help get the irrigation water where it needs to go, although they are not as convenient or effective as re-grouping sprinklers that have similar watering requirements.  One change is to turn off the sprinkler in low water requirement area off until it is in need of water.  That is what we are doing with the orange flags as mentioned above.  Another change that can be made is to use part circle sprinklers, which can be adjusted to irrigate just a portion of the area around the sprinkler.  In some situations, changing the nozzle sizes in one or both sprinklers that have varying water requirements within the same station can be beneficial.  Hand watering dry areas is a very effective way to provide a more consistent playing surface, but it is also very labor intensive.

An excellent way to improve irrigation uniformity is to provide consistent infiltration.  Aeration is performed routinely in order to provide good infiltration.  At most golf courses, the greens, approaches, fairways, and tees get aerated more often than the rough.  This is the main reason these areas have healthier turf with better infiltration.  Any wet areas that appear during the growing season at Sandpines, almost always occur in the rough.  We try to minimize these areas by making irrigation adjustments, hand watering dry spots, and aerating wet areas.  In fact, recently we have aerated sections of the rough throughout the golf course in order to improve infiltration.  As mentioned above, areas within the green surrounds were also aerated earlier this week.  We will continue to use spot aeration throughout the year to improve infiltration.

All golf courses have areas with differing water requirements.  However, no two golf courses are the same.  Each course faces a different set of challenges.  There are some courses that have all the resources that they need to implement every strategy they can come up with to combat the irrigation challenges they face (there are not many golf courses in this category).  Some examples include:  implementation of subair systems (underground moisture control systems used to conrol root zone moisture content), use of moisture sensors, irrigation system upgrades to improve control (installing separate greens and green surrounds sprinklers so each can be watered independently), irrigation systems equipped with weather stations that calculate daily evapotranspiration loss, use of multiple dedicated irrigation staff members to perform daily hand watering and irrigation adjustments, installation of new upgraded sprinkler nozzles that provide improved spray pattern uniformity, use wetting agents as needed, and consistent use of deep tine aeration (in addition to standard hollow core aeration).  There are also those golf courses on the other end of the spectrum, who have extremely limited resources with almost no way to implement any strategy to improve the efficiency of the irrigation system.  The truth is, Sandpines falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes (as do most golf courses).  We have a descent irrigation system, but there are not many upgrades that have been added that provide improved irrigation control or efficiency since the system was installed almost twenty years ago.  We use wetting agents, but not in the quantity or frequency that we would like (they work great, but are expensive).  We implement hand watering when we can, but we do not have a dedicated member of staff to hand water on a daily basis.  Irrigation system adjustments are implemented daily at Sandpines as we strive for constant improvement.  Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining, just attempting to put things in perspective.  Most businesses, if not all, have implemented changes in order stay in business over the last couple of years.  The golf course industry has been significantly impacted by the changing economy.  Sandpines is no exception.  We have had to make some changes in our operation.  Yet, still we are able to turn out a product that we are proud of.  We continue to receive compliments and praise on a daily basis for the condition and playability of the golf course.  We will continue to strive to produce the best playing conditions possible.