Mark Luckhardt was at the famed Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles recently where members include Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise. Luckhardt, the vice president of Stuart, Florida-based XGD Systems, wasn’t playing golf or scouting for Hollywood stars. He was overseeing the installation of the company’s XGD System (Existing Greens Drainage) at the course.

The procedure, developed by TDI Golf, consists of a subsurface drainage system that removes surface water more rapidly and lowers the water table in the green, thereby improving turf growth. In Bel-Air’s case, the XGD System was being installed so the greens not only drain better, but also flush better. In the past, when the golf maintenance staff flushed the greens to alleviate salt buildup, the turf would remain saturated for a week, which didn’t make Eastwood’s and other members’ day.

Photo courtesy of flashfilm/istockphoto/Thinkstock

Photo courtesy of flashfilm/istockphoto/Thinkstock

“Now, with the Existing Greens Drainage, they can put even more water on to flush the greens and do it better,” Luckhardt says.

Better also means no standing water, which lessens the chance of turf disease. Good drainage leads to healthy turf, which could mean fewer inputs for golf course superintendents, Luckhardt explains.

XGD Systems is owned by TDI Golf, which provides drainage and restoration services in North America. XGD’s business has been solid the last two years. Sales are up nearly 30 percent in the golf segment, Luckhardt notes.

While XGD’s core business is greens drainage, which Luckhardt believes will never change, the company has been getting more fairway drainage business lately. Luckhardt has seen some fairways that are so wet that landing areas remain muddy long after it rains. With fairways, 2-inch pipes are spaced 8 feet apart compared to 6 feet for greens drainage.

Luckhardt realizes that golf courses wouldn’t be repairing fairways if they didn’t have the money to do so. After several years of delaying such projects because of the challenging economy, more golf courses are opening their wallets to get them done, he says.

Luckhardt says business “really picked up in Florida” last year. When one Florida-area golf course committed to a project, others followed suit in a game of keeping up with the Joneses. It’s not just private courses doing drainage
projects, it’s public courses too, he adds.

Steve Bower, vice president of Toledo, Ohio-based Great Lakes Inter-Drain, has also noticed that more courses are performing drainage projects. Bower attributes it to increased competition among golf courses.

Golf course closures have averaged about 150 a year for the past eight years, which means more competition for the courses still in business. Bower says golfers are sticking with the courses that provide the best conditions.

“[Golfers are saying:] If I go to your course and if it’s wet, I’ll still give it a second try,” he says. “But when I go again and it’s still wet, I’m going down the road to the next course.”

Bower says golf courses are waking up to the fact that they have to make improvements to stay in business.

“The courses doing the proper drainage are the ones that will succeed,” Bower adds. “The ones that don’t do anything are the ones that will start losing [golfers].”

Bower recently saw what good drainage means to a golf course’s business. He was in South Carolina in an area with five golf courses in a 20-mile radius. Some heavy rains had recently hit the area. One public course was so busy with golfers that the parking lot was overflowing. That course, incidentally, had good drainage — none of the holes or cart paths were closed.

The same couldn’t be said for the other four courses, where holes and cart paths were closed due to flooding — and poor drainage, Bower says.

Bell-Air Country Club installed the XGD System to not only help the greens drain better, but also flush better.

Bel-Air Country Club installed the XGD System to not only help the greens drain better, but also flush better. PHOTO BY MARK LUCKHARDT

PHOTO BY MARK LUCKHARDT

Luckhardt admits that money for drainage projects is often the first thing that gets cut when golf course maintenance budgets start to shrink, but that thinking is changing, especially among superintendents who view proper drainage as a way to save water. With water costs soaring, superintendents are looking to reduce the amount they put on the course.

“They want to use less water, which means good drainage can recapture water for irrigation instead of letting it run off the golf course,” Luckhardt explains.

Faster green speeds have also spurred XGD System’s business. More golf courses are renovating greens to make contours less severe, Luckhardt notes. They’re getting TDI Golf to tackle the projects, and some are installing the XGD System simultaneously.

Some drainage suppliers may have to do a little more convincing before those who make the decisions at golf courses see the importance of such projects. Dennis Rector, owner of Water Management Specialist in Mason, Michigan, says his business has been slow in golf, but that may be a result of the local economy. Michigan was hit harder by the recession than other states because of the auto industry’s woes. Many golf courses in his area are just trying to hang on to their golfers and members.

Some projects have been discussed, but nothing has materialized, says Rector. “A lot of courses want to do something, but they’re not.”

Water Management Specialist, which in the past received most of its business from private clubs, is at the mercy of those clubs’ members when it comes to decisions on projects. These days, Rector is accustomed to members “hem-hawing around about whether they want a project done or not.” Rather than wait for an answer, Rector is confident that if members can see the work that Water Management Specialist can do on a course’s worst fairway, they’ll see the value in what was done. Hence, one fairway could lead to several fairways.

Even if it’s only one or two fairways that need drainage repair, Rector says the investment is worth it, especially if a superintendent and his crew are spending more time maintaining those fairways than others. Time is money, Rector points out.

Bower says the courses investing in things like drainage are the ones that are prospering. The decision makers at those courses also realize that good drainage can equate to healthy turf, not just happy golfers.

Water that sits in the turf isn’t good for the turf’s roots, because the roots won’t budge and become weak, Bower explains. But if the water drains, the roots are forced to dig deeper for a drink and become stronger in the process, he adds.

“I’ve played courses where if you miss the ball by a quarter inch you rip up 6 inches of sod,” Bower says. “I’ve also played courses that you could take a backhoe to and not rip up the sod.”

Bower’s message is spend to improve. He notes that several of the courses he played as a kid are gone because they didn’t invest to improve conditions.

He says, “When you’re nickeling and diming this and nickeling and diming that, eventually those nickels and dimes are going to cost you.”