.. or at least one that looks good, works well and doesn’t smell.
It’s a rare golfer who hasn’t cursed out a water hazard. But golf course superintendents are just as likely to swear at the ponds on their courses.
“They’ll say that they are just one big pain,” says Roy Watkins, president of Kansas City, Mo.-based Air-O-Lator, which manufactures products that improve water quality and beautification while maintaining environmental responsibility. “They’re getting ready to host some big tournament and their ponds will be covered with algae or they just smell.”
While superintendents usually know how to solve a turfgrass maintenance problem, they’re often less confident about maintaining their liquid assets.
“If you ask them about water, they’ll say, ‘I use it to irrigate, but that’s all I know,’ ” Watkins says.
In educating superintendents about maintaining ponds that look good and function well, Watkins frames the issue in terms they’ll quickly understand. “Just like grasses, a body of water is a living organism. It’s an ecosystem, just like turf is. And just like you aerate turf to get air down into the soil, in a body of water one of the most important ingredients is oxygen.”
Without sufficient oxygen, bad things start to happen in ponds, says Watkins of the downward spiral that follows. Sludge builds up on the bottom, which puts off gasses that create bad smells. As the sludge starts to decay it consumes oxygen, further depleting the supply in the water.
“That’s when you get high concentrations of nitrates, the organisms that are going to form algae,” he states.
Aeration is one critical way to keep ponds healthy, though many people wonder why aeration is necessary for a golf course pond when it’s not needed for lakes found in nature.
“When you have a large surface, wind creates waves and that’s aeration,” Watkins explains. But golf course ponds are often smaller and built on low areas, so they don’t receive that type of wind. “With a pond that’s 3 or 4 acres or less in size, you almost have to have some method of mechanical aeration,” he notes.
However, even accepting that fact, there’s often confusion about how pond aeration works. “A lot of people like to put in a fountain, but not all fountains are going to provide aeration. You have to get a high volume of water into the atmosphere to create a good oxygen transfer,” Watkins states.
John Van Kampen, vice president of Scott Aerator in Holland, Mich., says he often sees fountains on golf courses that were likely installed to serve an aeration purpose, but are so weak they accomplish nothing, and they don’t look very impressive either.
“There are a lot of cheap piece-of-junk fountains online that look like five guys peeing,” he jokes. They’re not moving any water, and they’re almost silly. We can help superintendents select something that’s going to look great and keep their ponds clean.”
When helping to determine the best aerator product for the job, he considers not only the pond symptoms being experienced on a given course, but also that course’s preferences. Some are looking for solutions that offer aesthetic appeal, while others simply want aeration. Either objective can be accomplished.
For example, Scott Aerator manufactures surface aeration systems that float on top of ponds and propel water up into the air.
“With these systems, everything is out in the water – the only thing that comes to shore is the electrical cord,” Van Kampen explains. “They move a lot of water and create a lot of surface current, so you have less floating algae and less floating debris.”
Scott Aerator also offers fountains, but Van Kampen is quick to point out that they’re designed for aesthetics. “They have nice, ornate patterns, but they don’t have the flow rate that aerators do,” he says. The company’s display aerators, on the other hand, resemble a fountain (though offer only one pattern), but are designed for both aesthetics and aeration.
Watkins says that Air-O-Lator’s surface aerators somewhat resemble a fountain, but the water typically isn’t thrown as high into the air because the goal is to move a greater volume of water rather than move the water at high pressure. The greater the volume of water that is being thrown into the air, the more it is able to mix with oxygen, he explains.
Another option is subsurface (or diffused) aeration. “That’s where you have an air compressor on the bank and you’re blowing air (oxygen) into the water, where it releases tiny bubbles that come to the surface,” Watkins says. “It’s a good method of aerating and creating mix and destratifying ponds, but our recommendation is that you should have this type of system in a minimum depth of 8 feet of water for it to be effective and efficient.”
There are also ways to use a combination of approaches. Some courses might want to use decorative fountains, even with the understanding that they’re doing little in the way of aerating. A subsurface system can then provide a hidden way to get the aerating done.
For courses that prefer a completely natural look and don’t want visible fountains or other forms of aeration, Watkins says one common approach is to recirculate water.
“They’ll have a series of ponds or lakes and they’re recirculating the water,” he adds. “And when they’re pumping it they’ve created waterfalls, which is a good thing because that’s creating aeration and mixing.” Or if there’s one body of water that’s farther from the course and not as visible to golfers, aeration can take place there, and the oxygenated water can be circulated amongst the other ponds, he adds.
Some courses opt to use chemicals or pond treatments to keep their water clean and clear.
“You just pour a certain amount in, depending on how big the pond is,” explains Howard Kaufman, president of Lyndhurst, Ohio-based Alumin-Nu Corp., a manufacturer of pond treatment products. “We have different treatments for the muck and the sludge on the bottom, as well as the algae on the top.”
That company’s treatments are simply added in at various locations around the pond. Kaufman says that, while not necessary, mechanical aerators can help make the products more efficient. “That’s even better, because the aerator helps spread the treatment around more,” he adds. Alumin-Nu’s products aren’t designed to color ponds, but rather to make the water more clear. “It’s a nice, natural look, and it helps the fish out, too,” he states.
Even following proper pond maintenance practices, problems can develop over time from runoff, grass clippings, construction erosion and assorted organic debris finding its way into the water. In those cases, pond cleanings are necessary to restore the appearance and health of the pond. Crete, Ill.-based U.S. Aqua Vac is one specialist providing this service.
The company uses specialized equipment in ponds to remove the muck and place it into large bladder bags with small holes that let clean water out, but keep the sediment inside. The whole process works without the need to bring excavation equipment onto the course.
Pirl says that removing muck from a pond can alleviate problems with bugs and smells, and most importantly takes away the source of food for weeds to grow. Obviously, as muck builds up the water also becomes more shallow. He cites one recent project in California where a course got 1.5 million gallons of extra volume (critical in drought conditions) by removing muck, which averages about 3 feet deep but can get as deep as 10 feet.
Pirl says a good pond cleaning will last a long time, but it’s largely dependent on ongoing maintenance. Left alone, a pond might need to be cleaned again in 10 or 15 years, he says.
“But some might only need to be cleaned every 30 years,” he adds. “Aeration in a pond and regular chemical applications and removing weeds and keeping geese away will really keep a pond in check. That basic maintenance will tremendously slow down the timeline of when you’re going to need to get your pond cleaned.”