Industry suppliers offer an array of options to help superintendents become more efficient irrigators.
These days, golf course superintendents can’t jam enough water-reduction tools in their proverbial toolboxes to help them become better irrigators. Considering the golf industry is entering a new era of water management, superintendents should be looking for every edge they can to save water while still providing excellent playing conditions.
As evidenced by the companies sponsoring this supplement, industry suppliers are doing their part in providing superintendents with the necessary tools. We asked the sponsors to share their philosophies about water management and how it pertains to their products. Helping superintendents improve their water management strategies is what these companies do best.
AquaSmart: Water-smart products
For the last 10 years, Ewing Irrigation has focused on providing education and training for customers and employees about water-efficient technologies and best management practices, says Jim Barbuto, a turfgrass specialist with Ewing. A technology included in that education and training is Field Magic, a product developed by Lubbock, Texas-based AquaSmart Enterprises and distributed by Ewing.
Field Magic is a moisture-retention product that can be incorporated during topdressing, overseeding, aerating and installing new sod. It has demonstrated water and irrigation savings of up to 70 percent, according to AquaSmart. When hydrated, Field Magic retains 12 times its weight in water. Barbuto calls it a water-smart product, one that could be a beneficial addition to a superintendent’s irrigation program.
“There are a lot of proven water-saving products available today – and a properly designed, installed and maintained system featuring water-smart products results not only in water savings, but can lead to true cost savings in water-use rates and labor hours,” Barbuto adds.
Field Magic uses absorbent polymers and other materials to coat a variety of substrates.
“What makes it appealing to a superintendent is that it’s attached to a piece of sand, which offers control over the amount spread over a given area, as well as the uniformity of the application area,” Barbuto explains.
In years past, Barbuto says he might not have been given the chance to introduce a product like Field Magic to superintendents, but that has changed with “the reality of the water situation,” he says.
“Superintendents are willing to try something new to save water,” Barbuto adds. “And superintendents have never had as many options when it comes to using water more efficiently, with advanced central control systems, water-saving irrigation technologies, soil moisture sensors and products like Field Magic.”
DAKOTA: A water-saving topdressing
What does an organic soil enhancer have to do with water efficiency? Plenty, says Steve Christian, national account manager for DAKOTA Grow.
DAKOTA Grow, based in Grand Forks, North Dakota, offers its Organic Soil & Plant Enhancer, which can help greens hold the right amount of water longer. Hence, superintendents are reducing water use on putting greens, saving money and energy.
The product is hydrophilic, which makes it an excellent water-relationship manager, Christian explains. It acts as a natural insulator against evaporation, reducing heat stress and field loss. When used for topdressing, it can reduce water up to 60 percent. Even though it’s organic, the product doesn’t deter water flow to the point of a green being unplayable after a 0.25 inch of rain, Christian says.
“The water will penetrate fine because of its hydrophilic properties,” he adds.
At Shell Landing Golf Club in Gautier, Mississippi, Certified Golf Course Superintendent Toby Thornton had major issues with the putting greens holding water. Thornton topdressed the greens with a mixture comprised of 20 percent DAKOTA Organic Soil & Plant Enhancer. The greens are now holding water and nutrients much better.
Superintendents have to manage the root zones of the courses’ greens, but they have to be careful not to let the greens’ root zones manage them, meaning crews shouldn’t have to “babysit” greens on hot days, constantly checking them and hand-watering when needed. If they are, the greens aren’t retaining water like they could.
One superintendent told Christian that his biggest worry used to be the health of the course’s greens, but since he began using DAKOTA Organic Soil & Plant Enhancer, he doesn’t worry as much.
Ecologel Solutions: Capturing water vapor
Ecologel Solutions LLC’s maxim is “sustainability without sacrifice.” The motto is clearly evident in the Ocala, Florida-based company’s approach toward golf and water.
” ‘Brown is the new green’ was a trending motto surrounding this year’s U.S. Open [on Pinehurst No. 2],” says Jim Spindler, Ecologel’s certified professional agronomist. “This motto plays into the perception that large-scale water conservation is only attainable through reductions in turf quantity and quality. There are many ways to reduce water consumption on a golf course.”
The key is for superintendents to use all the tools available to them to use water more efficiently, not just irrigation heads and controllers, Spindler says. That includes wetting agents, polymers and the hygroscopic humectant technology that Ecologel offers, Hydretain.
“Through the right combination of equipment, products and resources, superintendents can conserve substantial amounts of water while still maintaining exceptional quality turf,” Spindler states.
Hydretain helps manage root zone water moisture, which is not a new concept for superintendents in their quest to find the balance between too much water and not enough.
“What’s changing are the methods that superintendents use to accomplish their water-management goals,” Spindler says, noting that more superintendents are using moisture meters to help determine when to water, and taking into account the effect of soil texture, organic matter content and plant rooting when designing their watering practices. More superintendents are also making Hydretain part of their water-management programs, he adds.
In the past, Hydretain was falsely associated with wetting agents, which it’s not, Spindler says.
“Through the combination of hygroscopic and humectant compounds, Hydretain captures water vapor in the soil profile, aggregating individual water molecules into plant-usable droplets,” he explains.
Typically unavailable to the plant, water vapor is lost to evaporation, Spindler says. With Hydretain, evaporative loss is minimized, resulting in water savings around 25 to 35 percent on the average golf course,
Humate International: Water-holding capacity
Nobody has to tell Brian Galbraith that water is one of the world’s most precious commodities. Hence, Galbraith, the president of Humate International in Jacksonsonville, Florida, says, “We must use every opportunity to reduce the amount of water [use] on our golf courses.”
Galbraith is convinced that as the demand for water increases and it becomes less available, water costs will increase. Golf courses will continue to feel the brunt of this issue.
“We have seen restrictions placed on the amount of water that golf courses can use, and in some extreme cases of drought we have already seen the water supply for golf courses shut off,” Galbraith notes.
He says Humate International is doing its part to help superintendents use less water by offering them Humate organic and BioSyst microbial products, which help open up the soil structure to allow water into the soil, thereby increasing its water-holding capacity.
According to Galbraith, superintendents using Humate organic granular are realizing a water savings on their golf courses, particularly those using the product on fairways.
To date, most of the story about Humate and BioSyst has been focused on improving plant health and reducing requirements for fertilizers and fungicides, Galbraith says.
“The use of our Humate to reduce water requirements will soon begin to take hold, particularly as superintendents start to realize how much water and money they can save when they include it in their fairway programs,” he adds.
Mi-T-M: Using water over and over
Aaron Auger, the water treatment division manager for Mi-T-M in Peosta, Iowa, is matter of fact when he discusses the company’s stance toward water reduction and water-efficient services.
“Water is a resource,” Auger says. “It’s not something of which we have an infinite supply. The more that we can do now to reuse what we have will go a long way to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to prosper from its benefits.”
Mi-T-M has been selling its closed-loop biological water-treatment system in the golf industry since 1998. The reused water generated from the system is of wash quality for mowers, golf cars and other equipment. The system utilizes fixed-film bacteria in conjunction with coalescing media. Microbes are injected into a holding tank or the water itself to consume greases, hydrocarbons and gasses.
With the days of free or low-cost water coming to an end in the golf industry, the ability to use a gallon of water over and over should be enticing to anyone who has to wash maintenance equipment on a daily basis, Auger says, noting that superintendents are well-educated in the benefits of a reclaim system.
“Return on investment for anything is huge,” he adds. “The potential to reuse hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year is pretty convincing.”
The closed-loop system will also help maintenance facilities with environmental compliance because it eliminates runoff and discharge.
“It’s not good PR to be on the front page of the local newspaper for environmental violations,” Auger adds.
SonicSolutions: Aesthetics and wildlife
Jeff Goren tried just about everything to clear algae from the ponds at Mirabel Golf Club, a private 18-hole club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Some of the products worked for a short time, but that wasn’t good enough for Goren, Mirabel’s director of golf course operations.
“We irrigate with effluent,” Goren says. “Algae and water quality and clarity have always been a problem.”
The problem wasn’t with irrigation as much as it was with aesthetics. The ponds didn’t look good or healthy.
“Right or wrong, a lot of golf in America today is for aesthetics,” Goren adds.
At the Golf Industry Show, Goren had visited the SonicSolutions booth and was intrigued by what SonicSolutions had to offer. The West Hatfield, Massachusetts-based company manufactures ultrasonic algae control for use in ponds, reservoirs and other water bodies. Goren was skeptical that algae could be controlled by sonic waves, but he agreed to test a unit at Mirabel with the option to purchase it. Fast-forward and Mirabel now has two SonicSolutions devices operating on the course. Goren says the purchase will pay for itself in about two years, considering the money he previously had to invest in the ponds to control algae.
“The ponds are remarkably clear,” states Goren, a certified golf course superintendent. “You can see fish swimming. It’s pretty amazing.”
Now that the ponds are clear, more wildlife has returned to the course to feed on the fish, including lake ducks. A bald eagle was also seen in the area.
“We’ve enhanced the environment through wildlife,” Goren says. “Our members are excited about that.”
Turf Max: Less wilt, less water
Scott May says, “I was skeptical when I first thought of this. A sunscreen for turfgrass didn’t sound like a real wise thing to do.”
May came up with the idea for Turf Screen in 2006 to improve turf quality and health by filtering ultraviolet and solar radiation and shielding plants from stress, even in extreme heat. He brought it to market in 2010. Looking back, he realizes it was a wise thing to do.
May quit his job as a superintendent and became president and CEO of his new company, Turf Max LLC, with Turf Screen as the flagship product.
Originally, May touted Turf Screen as a product to improve plant health and fight off secondary pathogens while increasing turf density, photosynthesis and respiration. The product keeps turf rom wilting in the sun and heat.
However, May discovered another benefit among the testimonials he receives from Turf Screen users: They have reduced water use on their golf courses when using it. They aren’t syringing the courses’ greens like they used to because the grass isn’t wilting like it used to.
“I never tested Turf Screen for water savings until this past year,” May says. “I’m happy I did.”
The research revealed that Turf Screen produced “great turf quality” at 60 percent evapotranspiration replacement, a 40 percent water reduction.
Turf Screen also significantly reduced drought stress and delayed dormancy, according to research. When irrigation was reduced 60 percent, Turf Screen-treated plots acclimated better and stayed alive far longer than untreated plots. During an 11-day period without irrigation, Turf Screen-treated plots produced significantly greener canopy with higher chlorophyll content.
Being a former superintendent – he spent several years at Manufacturers Golf & Country Club in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania – May realizes his peers are looking for products that can widen their margin for error. He says Turf Screen allows superintendents “not to have to overmanage every speck of their property for every second of the day.” And they can save water in the process.
U.S. Aqua Vac: Helping courses store more water
Here’s a sign of the times: More and more superintendents are getting their courses’ ponds excavated and cleaned for storage capacity than for aesthetic reasons, according to Brian Pirl, vice president of operations for U.S. Aqua Vac, a Crete, Illinois-based company that offers a cleaning service to keep ponds free of muck, sludge, silt and sediment. More than ever, superintendents realize the value of storing water.
Recently, a drought-stricken California golf course had its pond cleaned, which freed up room for 1.6 million gallons of water. A rainstorm then filled the pond, which was a godsend for the course, Pirl says.
Superintendents need to realize the importance of keeping mucky sediment from accumulating on pond bottoms and around irrigation systems.
“Allowing more room for water capacity in a pond by removing the sediment can take a lot of weight off of a superintendent’s shoulders when a drought comes around,” he adds.
Removing sediment not only makes more room for water, it also lightens the stress on your irrigation pumps, improves water quality, and cuts down on the cost of products being used to maintain the water quality, Pirl explains.
After a pond cleaning and without the sediment available to feed pondweeds, the pondweeds begin to die, which also impacts water consumption, Pirl notes.
“Without those weeds soaking and sucking up the pond water, you can free up thousands of gallons of water that can be used elsewhere,” he explains.
In addition to pond excavating, U.S. Aqua Vac also offers a water-cleaning service. Pond water is discharged to an area where it is filtered, cleaned and sent back to the pond.
Variable Speed Solutions: The importance of pump station efficiency
The enduring drought in California will be good for at least one thing, says Brian Pavloff, president of Variable Speed Solutions in Huntington Beach, California.
“It will change the way we use water.”
Much like the Great Recession helped rid the economy of bad business practices, the drought will do the same for bad irrigation practices, Pavloff adds.
“We’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, what a waste it was that we were using water in that matter,’ ” Pavloff says.
Variable Speed Solutions distributes MCI pump stations, in addition to offering pump station repairs, maintenance/service and parts.
With the scarcity of potable water becoming a national issue, Pavloff says many superintendents realize that properly functioning golf course pump stations are vital to efficient irrigation and can save their courses money in the long run. However, superintendents need more education on proper pump station operation.
“We need to make it easier for them to understand,” says Pavloff, noting the importance of making pump stations easy to operate and user-friendly so superintendents don’t have to worry if they’re operating inefficiently or not.
Throughout his career, Pavloff has seen many different pump stations and their inefficiencies.
“Most superintendents I’ve met with feel as though their pump stations are running efficiently, but after Variable Speed Solutions assessed their pump stations’ performance, we found that we were able to help our customers save thousands of dollars having their pump stations fine-tuned and running in the most efficient manner,” he says.
Through its pump station products and packages, Pavloff says Variable Speed Solutions aims to educate superintendents about pump station operation.
“It’s about giving them accurate information so they can make decisions,” Pavloff states.
Pump stations typically last from 15 to 25 years. Considering that many golf courses were built in the 1990s and early 2000s, they may be ready for new pump stations, he adds.
“You can’t have a 25-year-old pump station that hasn’t worked right since the late 1990s.”