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.

Despite the hit golf courses have taken with the economic downturn, manufacturers of golf course irrigation equipment continue to invest in and develop new technologies to improve irrigation system performance and operation.

For years, the focus was on sprinkler enhancements, such as improved uniformity, part/full-circle-in-one and changing trajectories. More recently, however, manufacturers have shifted their focus to smart devices such as sensors, remote controls and software that work with the irrigation systems to maximize water and energy management.

The addition of sensors to irrigation and pump systems has gained a great deal of attention in the last few years, with the use of in-ground soil sensors gaining the most traction. Sensors make direct comparisons; show trending of soil moisture, temperature and salinity; and provide self-diagnostics. They also detect irrigation failures, as well as the effects of venting, green insulation and green cooling. All of this information can be used to educate green committees, boards and members.

The sensors can also show the effectiveness of rainfall and flushing and can communicate back to a central computer – interacting wirelessly with the irrigation system much like a weather station. This leads to both improved water management and turf playability.

However, sensors are not limited to the irrigation control system. With the technological improvements in the pump system, you can sense pH, turbidity, flow, water levels, pump house and control panel temperatures, electrical use per pump, and the pump system as a whole.

Remote monitoring

Imagine this: You’re lying on the beach drinking a margarita and your vacation is interrupted by an alarm automatically sent from your pump station or irrigation system. Connecting to your pump station with a tablet, smartphone or computer is now possible, giving users the ability to monitor irrigation and pump systems from any location. Most new monitoring software is Internet-based. For example, with programs such as Log Me In, irrigation professionals can remotely log in to the pump station or irrigation central control system, allowing them to make adjustments off-site.

Communication integration

Probably the most exciting new technology in golf course irrigation is software that allows better integration of various pieces of equipment on a golf course, like pump stations, moisture sensors and the irrigation system. These three systems were previously independent of each other, but now have the ability to respond to each other automatically.

Today’s integration allows for new and exciting possibilities. Moisture sensors can now also dictate run times – deciding when sprinklers should come on and when they should shut off – automatically. The system can also provide leak detection. For example, if you have a large leak, the irrigation system has the ability to communicate to the pump system that too much water is being pumped, shutting the irrigation system off. If there’s still flow, the pump station will then shut itself off, all very quickly.

Integration also goes beyond improved interaction. On some systems, the pump station can learn from the irrigation system that the flow is going to change in the next few minutes, and the pump station can get ready for that before it senses it through the flow meter or pressure transducer. This type of integrated communication results in more efficient use of both water and energy.

Energy management includes being able to have different pressure set points at different times of the day, such as one for irrigating and one for hand watering. It also allows for specific pumps to be shut off during certain periods of the day or year, which will make sure you don’t trigger electrical demand charges.

Replacement nozzles

While irrigation nozzles from major manufacturers are not changing much, the third-party replacement nozzle business is alive and booming. These brass nozzles replace existing plastic nozzles in older sprinklers to improve their uniformity. Keep in mind that older sprinklers from the 1970s and 1980s were not really made to be very uniform in their water application. By replacing older nozzles with specifically engineered replacement nozzles, the uniformity can be improved at a much lower cost than buying a new sprinkler.

Start with a strong foundation

You can invest in technology and reap its benefits, but only if your base irrigation system is good. Technology alone can’t fix an irrigation system that was poorly designed, installed or maintained. Technology such as sensors can save water, labor and money when properly implemented, even providing information that you’re not aware of.

Integration software combined with monitoring and remote control can make your life much easier and operate your equipment more efficiently, even when you’re not there.