September 2016
On Course Magazine

New Irrigation System? Simple or Complex - It’s Your Choice.

Before the powers that be at a golf facility decide to invest in a new irrigation system, they need to determine whether one is actually needed. One of the best ways for the club to compile data helping to make this determination is to have an audit or system evaluation performed.

System evaluations review all the components (central, controllers, sprinklers, pumps) and provide feedback of the current state of the system. Many times golfers see sprinklers flinging water and assume everything is operating just fine. However, what they don’t know is some of the older sprinklers are running on small piping networks and the sprinklers are highly inefficient. Newer sprinklers with proper pressure and flow will put down 1.1” of water in some spots of an irrigated area to get 1” everywhere; older sprinklers can be as high as 1.8” in some areas to get 1” everywhere - if pressure and flow are low, these ratios get worse.

Recently there has also been a big push to reduce mowed turf … that’s a great idea if there is not irrigation being thrown into these areas that are being converted. Many times the water throws partially into the converted areas and into maintained turf which generates a point where a decision needs to be made. Does the maintained turf now struggle due to water being turned off to the new “native” areas or is the “native” going to be watered? Watering of these new unmaintained areas is a huge waste of water, and has to be taken into consideration when looking at a new irrigation system; often times additional sprinklers are required to keep water out of the unmaintained areas.

New systems with proper pipe sizing and sprinkler spacing make it so a superintendent can water much more efficiently. Wall to wall systems are great but if they lack control, they are no better than mass watering a field.

In the past when superintendents were deciding on a new irrigation system, they chose between brand T and brand R. Did they want to stick with a two row system or make the big jump to a three row system? After these choices were made, and the membership revived themselves from seeing the price tag, the systems were installed lasting the next 15- 25 years.

Things have changed a little in the last 10 years. There are still a lot of the aforementioned systems in the ground that are running very well and clubs are happy with their investment. With today’s technology and the ability to get more information from peers in the business, this decision making process has become a little more challenging. There are certain buzz words in the irrigation business these days, like “HDPE” or “two wire”. These buzz words generate a lot of questions and confusion when starting the process of replacing an irrigation system. It’s the job of irrigation consultants, manufacturers, distributors and friends in the industry to help clarify what these terms mean.

There are few things however, that have not changed. The ability to control where water is applied, for a precise amount of time is definitely one of the biggest focuses in today’s irrigation systems. The task of getting decisionmakers to understand that putting more sprinkler heads in the ground to water less seems counterintuitive, and poses a very realistic challenge. There are going to be sprinklers that are used much less than others, although necessary to help keep the playing conditions to the standard that golfers are asking for. Firm and fast is a tough balance if you also want the rough to be penal. It is the job of the irrigation consultant to design a system that is fiscally responsible as well as one that meets the needs of the golf course superintendent. Every system is different and there are no cookie cutter answers to any system.

The other issue that has become part of this process is cost of ownership. Frequency of repairs, overall maintenance and life of the system all play a major role in painting the picture for a membership to help justify the expense. Reviewing current cost of ownership versus what a new system will save annually is important to present to the facility.

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