Water Savings Under Par
A recent survey by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) reveals that 29% of 18-hole golf course facilities voluntarily participate in an environmental stewardship program.
By Carol Brzozowski
Throughout the US, 25% of golf courses have increased their irrigated acres by an average of 13 acres over the past five years, according to information released by the GCSAA. That same survey also shows that 27% of the nation’s golf courses have experienced an increase in water costs, while 70% report no change at all. Those sites that have experienced an increase in water costs have seen an average of 31% increases. Additionally, 12% of the nation’s golf courses are using reclaimed water. Half of the survey respondents say that reclaimed water is unavailable, while 13% say there is no infrastructure to deliver the reclaimed water that is available in their communities. Those statistics are drawing a picture of water-use trends at golf courses throughout the US. As water supplies continue to diminish and costs continue to skyrocket, it is no surprise that the GCSAA survey revealed what it did.
Golf Fore SA
Among the programs in which golf courses participate, is Golf Fore SA, a program offered by the San Antonio Water System’s (SAWS) Environmental Program. The program is considered the first of its kind in an effort to help golf courses develop conservation and community-oriented practices. Water conservation is the primary purpose of the program, as well as the protection of underground and surface water quality, the enhancement and protection of natural beauty of the land utilized for golf courses, the maximization of the potential of out-of-play land for wildlife and the community, and the encouragement of community-interaction programs that allow for new ways that citizens can benefit from golf courses.
Certification is provided for those golf courses that reach certain levels of achievement, through the program’s four criteria: water conservation, water quality, wildlife habitat and open space, and community outreach. Achievement levels start with Par for entry-level achievement, followed by Birdie for basic achievement, Eagle for outstanding achievement, and Double Eagle for extraordinary achievement.
The program works as such: golf courses submit a pledge card to commit to the program. A Golf Fore SA Course team—comprised of the participating golf course superintendent, SAWS representatives, and community representatives—is formed to evaluate the course based on program criteria. The team develops an individualized three-year plan of continuous improvement. The plan is implemented according to schedule, and the course team agrees upon milestones.
Participating golf course’s plans and achievements are available to the public for review on the SAWS Web site. Golf courses achieving a Birdie level or better, are entitled to the use of the Golf Fore SA “Good Coursekeeping Seal.” Golfers are encouraged to consider this status when selecting to play an area golf course within the SAWS boundaries.
Water conservation measures for each level of achievement include the following:
Par-designated courses irrigate at no more than 100% of envirotranspiration (ET); conduct and submit irrigation system audits, and submit annually to SAWS; report monthly water use to SAWS; designate priority areas requiring irrigation; install irrigation meter and rain sensors; and follow daily watering times according to the San Antonio city ordinance.
Birdie-designated courses build upon Par by irrigating at no more than 90% of ET, and develop and submit a Critical Period Plan and Drought Management Plan to SAWS.
Eagle-designated courses build upon Birdie by irrigating at no more than 80% of ET, using a minimum of 50% onsite or SAWS recycled water for irrigation needs, xeriscaping non-course areas, and utilizing zoned irrigation.
Double Eagle-designated courses build upon Eagle by irrigating at no more than 70% of ET, using a minimum of 90% onsite or SAWS recycled water for irrigation needs, and discontinuing watering the roughs.
Lyman says programs, such as that in San Antonio, illustrate how golf courses can be very effective in helping communities address local issues of water concerns.
The Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association (GGCSA)
Another such program Lyman points out is in Georgia, where members of the GGCSA have produced two National Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards. Superintendents there have responded to the critical water shortage periods that have arisen over the past several years, by developing a comprehensive water efficiency program. One such effort was to establish a water task force committee comprised of golf course superintendents, university professors, and research professionals, with its primary objective being to ensure golf courses remain classified as ‘urban agriculture.’ The task force’s work was woven into a Georgia’s Drought Management Plan for golf water usage under drought restrictions.
Georgia golf industry professionals also joined together to form the Georgia Allied Golf Council, which raised funds to provide an ongoing lobbying effort to represent the industry at various levels of state government. One of its efforts entailed supporting a bill passed in Georgia’s legislature, in 2005, to create a statewide water management plan, by 2007. Golf course Best Management Practices (BMPs) were included as part of the overall plan.
The GGCSA worked with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Environmental Protection Division to create a water conservation initiative, calling upon 75% of GGCSA member clubs to utilize a written water conservation plan by May 2007. The goal was met.
In doing so, golf course superintendents supplied basic information about their courses and water usage, to show the state’s DNR that each golf course “was unique, and the idea of ‘what applies to one should apply to all’ was not valid in the case of golf courses,” notes Richard Staughton, a Certified Golf Course Superintendent based at Towne Lake Hills Golf Club in Woodstock, GA.
Factors examined included:
Site assessment: areas of course, plants, general factors
Overall water needs: sources, quantities, and permits
BMPs: cultural methods, required labor hours
Water conservation plan: goals for conserving during drought restrictions
Supporting documents: soil/water samples, rainfall/irrigation totals
“The payoff for the golf courses is that, if they got into a drought situation, there would be a clear and regimented protocol of how drought restrictions would be handled,” Lyman notes. “It was a more thoughtful approach for golf courses, so they had more latitude in how they’re going to ratchet back their water use. It gave them a little bit more control, rather than saying: ‘Reduce by 40% now, or you can’t water on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays.’ They got that done just before they went into the severe drought that they’re in now.”
Georgia golf courses’ water conservation approaches are exemplified in the work that has been done at the Stone Mountain Golf Club (SMGC), for example. Located 16 miles from Atlanta, the golf course is part of the 3,200-acre Stone Mountain Park, and is recognized as an environmentally respectful, vital green space amidst urban sprawl. The golf course has served as a template for others throughout the state, through its development of BMPs for water management that have been adopted at other Georgia courses.
SMGC staff attended 50 hours of education in water management in 2006 and 2007, and Anthony L. Williams, the course’s superintendent, completed the GCSAA Environmental Management Program (EMP) in March 2007. “The classes we attended, as part of the EMP’s Water Quality and Application specialization, were extremely helpful in the establishment of our BMPs for water conservation and management,” Williams notes. “This training helped our staff to be more efficient when scouting and watering, and exposed them to the latest technologies in wetting agents and cultural practices.”
Elements within the SMGC water conservation and management plan include:
Site assessment: identify the surface area, soils, and species; delineate and incorporate all play areas and non-play areas appropriately; review and describe maintenance practices and technology (mowing heights and frequency, and irrigation practices and equipment)
The irrigation audit: Identification of the system’s efficiency and review controllers and other equipment, to ensure they incorporate modern and appropriate technology.
Identify overall water needs: Consider BMPs for tracking, reporting, and monitoring (such as metering, record-keeping, and water testing); review water sources and identify potential alternative sources, and project future needs.
BMPs and water conservation measures: costs for irrigation, staffing, scouting, and hand watering; night-watering capacity and capability; monitoring for leaks and efficiency; monitoring for rain, using ET rates; Integrated Pest Management practices; materials and species selection; fertilization; irrigation methodology; wetting agents; education; and record-keeping.
A water conservation plan or a drought management plan, that includes identifying reasons and including counter-measures for drought, such as proper equipment maintenance (to ensure maximum cut quality to improve plant health and conserve water), increased mowing heights, reduced mowing of select areas, and increased hand-watering, among other measures. The plan also addresses future upgrades for better conservation.
In addition to erosion control and surface water quality approaches, SMGC has installed the latest in water control technology, by utilizing a Rain Bird irrigation system that covers 126 acres. The system includes a primary pump station consisting of a Carroll Childers main control panel with two 75-horsepower vertical turbine pumps and one 25-horsepower jockey pump or line-pressure maintenance pump, a silt separation system, a 14-inch main line, and a flow of 1,400 gallons per minute at a line pressure of 130 psi.
The second pump station consists of a Flowtronex main control panel with two 75-horsepower-centrifical main pumps, and one 25-horsepower jockey or line-pressure maintenance pump, a silt separation system, an 8-inch main discharge line, and a station flow of 1,100 gallons per minute at a line pressure of 155 psi. The third pump, or transfer station, can, under severe conditions, transfer water from Stone Mountain Lake to the quarry pond. It consists of a Cutler-Hammer control panel with one 100-horsepower centrifical pump, a 6-inch, primary-discharge line, and an estimated flow of 1,070 gallons per minute.
The irrigation system includes inside/outside loops on greens, quick couplers at each green for hand watering, one Toro monitor, 12 air vent valves, 34 isolation valves, and 1,237 total sprinkler heads. The system is operated by a Rain Bird Nimbus II central control system that allows utilization of ET-based programs. Field controls of Rain Bird Par+ES Satellite Controllers satellites and two Rain Bird Freedom radios.
The ‘cycle and soak’ feature maximizes uptake of water on severe slopes, allowing appropriate water management throughout the course’s diverse topography, and the prevention of runoff through shorter, multiple run times. GPS-mapping and water budget features facilitate easier watering schedule adjustments. The golf course has a Rain Bird-certified, central control operator on staff and service plan offering 24-hour technical support.
Grass selections have an impact on water conservation. For example, SMGC utilizes Common Bermuda grass (with high-drought tolerance) where appropriate. In landscaped areas, mulch is used to prevent weed competition and conserve water. Other water conservation management plans include keeping standard cut heights to reduce plan stress; cultivating soil through aeration and top-dress to promote good root depth to enhance plants’ water efficiency; using a Meterolgix weather station for ET; selecting landscape material in an overall xeriscaping philosophy to reduce water use; removal of natural areas from maintenance to allow native plant re-establishment; using wetting agents to enhance water applications to hydrophobic areas, reducing water runoff and loss, among other measures.
For its efforts, the SMGC was named the 2006 National Public Course and overall winner of the GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf contest. The GCSAA awarded the program its Excellence in Government Relations Award in 2007. The proactive water management and conservation measures had an immediate positive impact. “Soon after our plan was developed in 2006, the state established Level One drought restrictions,” Williams notes. “As a result of our BMPs, we reduced our water use by 10% during the drought.”
The area receives an average of 52 inches of rain per year; nearly at this time last year, the area was in a deficit of more than 12 inches. Consequently, the state had gone to Level Two drought restrictions, and the golf course was able to achieve a 20% reduction in water use. Water conservation is good for the game of golf anyway, Williams points out.
“Playability dictates that dry is better; therefore, over-watering is bad for the game,” he says, adding that it will break down the environment and microenvironments essential for the success of turf and landscape plants.
Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.