So, you’ve finally received the funding you need to retrofit the irrigation system on your golf course. What do you do next? Or, more importantly, what mistakes do you avoid making?

First, make a plan. You will most likely be improving the irrigation system in phases to minimize the inconvenience to your members and players. Phasing works well as long as you have a clear plan to follow. A well-organized plan provides the big picture of your irrigation system retrofit project, and allows you to quickly determine the order of construction and the overall cost. Then you can organize the project into clearly defined phases based on your available funds per year. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a plan helps prevent you from making small, but costly, mistakes.

Here are six tips to help you get started on your irrigation retrofit project:

  1. Do determine what manufacturer’s equipment you will use and start negotiating with the supplier. When drafting the initial contract with your supplier, remember to build in a cap on annual increases in materials if you phase the project. Without this cap, you will be locked in a noncompetitive situation, and the equipment supplier can charge you whatever it wants for the equipment you use in any subsequent phases. You will have no choice but to meet the supplier’s proposed cost, as the supplier’s equipment will likely be the only equipment compatible with the irrigation work installed in earlier phases.
  2. Do research area golf course irrigation installation contractors. For a phased installation, it will be difficult to get the national irrigation installation contractors interested. If they bid, they may not be competitive. No amount of good design or fancy equipment can make up for a poor installation. Visit courses where contractors have previously worked. Call their references and the irrigation equipment suppliers and ask about the quality and timeliness of their work. The low bidder is not necessarily the right bidder.
  3. Don’t let contractors bid on a private facility if you don’t want them to do the work. On public projects, write a rigid contractor qualifications requirement that includes extensive golf course installation experience for the company, not just the foreman, and make sure the city, county, state or federal agency enforces it.
  4. Don’t let the contractor spread his equipment out all over the golf course or simultaneously work on multiple holes once the project begins. A hole should be 95 percent complete before the contractor starts work on the next hole. This is especially important at public facilities, as it doesn’t take long for word to spread that a golf course is all dug up and not worth playing. The more the irrigation installation activities interfere with play, the less play you will have. Less play means less revenue, and the last thing you want is to lose revenue when you have already made a considerable investment in improving your golf course.
  5. Do have a procedure for notifying players and members of hole closures? If a hole will be closed, post signs at the pro shop, the first tee and at the closed tee. This gives players plenty of notice about the holes currently undergoing installation activities. Keep the signs up to date so they are accurate on a daily basis. Do not leave players to come across the contractor’s crew unexpectedly as they are playing their rounds.
  6. Do communicate with everyone – the contractor, the irrigation equipment supplier, the board or owner, your golf commission and your players. A retrofit project will go more smoothly when everyone knows what is going on. For a private facility, timely emails to your members regarding construction progress, changes to the construction schedule and hole closures are a good way to keep them informed. Publishing a blog post with pictures of the progress also works wonders and keeps loyal customers interested in the project.

As with any project, planning is key. Set realistic expectations. Get assistance from those who have successfully installed an irrigation system retrofit, and use professionals when and where needed. Make a budget. Apply for any required environmental or building permits. And, finally, be patient. It takes time to organize an irrigation system retrofit, and if you move too quickly and forgo an overall plan, the quality of the end product will suffer. Taking the time to plan and communicate the schedule and progress of the irrigation system retrofit with your stakeholders will ensure a successful project.

Editor’s note: Superintendent magazine has teamed with the Irrigation Association for a bimonthly column, SuperTip, to focus on various water issues that affect golf course maintenance.