It’s Time To Be Level-headed May 13, 2014 By Larry Gilhuly

Water distribution and playing quality will be impacted when heads are too low or unlevel.

As the weather begins to warm, two annual events are occurring in the region. In both cases, they are the lifeblood of the golf industry. Without them we are all out of a job. What are these two critical functions that happen every year at this time? Play begins to ramp up as outdoor temperatures rise, and irrigation heads begin to pop up as their winter slumber is now over.

At a time when the golf industry is facing its biggest challenge – water use – now is the time to focus on irrigation efficiency and playing conditions before the onslaught of warm summer temperatures. Irrigation efficiency includes a myriad topics; however, the one that may impact overall water use the most is simply having irrigation heads level to the surface. It has been estimated that as much as a 20 percent drop in efficiency can occur when irrigation heads are too low. We have all seen wet and dry areas caused by poor irrigation coverage due to low heads. This usually occurs near greens where the extensive use of sand topdressing results in heads that “sink” in a matter of a few years, and it happens even faster in front of bunkers. The problem can become enormous when fairway topdressing is implemented or when dealing with grasses that accumulate organic material at a rapid rate. In every case, and despite the time it takes to address this issue, irrigation heads must be systematically raised to reduce overall water consumption.

Water use is the main issue with low heads, but what about some other major concerns caused by low heads?  How do they impact overall playing conditions? There is no question that low heads can significantly change overall water distribution resulting in excessively wet or dry areas that impact overall ball roll, stand density and turf health. You can also be assured that golf carts will be attracted to the wet and dry areas resulting in tire marks and dead turf. However, the greatest impact on playing conditions occurs around the greens – specifically the heads that are responsible for green, collar, approach and nearby rough irrigation. This is the area where most shots are played and where reasonable consistency is highly desirable. Irrigation heads that are not performing their best because they are too low can result in inconsistent ball reactions on the greens and surrounds.  Furthermore, the inconsistencies caused by low heads increase the amount of hand watering required to manage playing surfaces. Low heads in the collars near greens are particularly problematic and significantly affect playability. 

With the addition of sand to greens from topdressing and bunker shots, irrigation heads located near the greens can rapidly fall below the surface of the ground to the point of interfering with play. A temporary solution can be the addition of a local rule – Rules of Golf, Appendix I-B (6). This gives line-of-sight relief when a ball must be played within two club lengths of an immovable obstruction (irrigation head in this case) that is within two club lengths from the edge of a green. But what if the shot is three club lengths and the irrigation head is two inches below the surface? The best solution to avoid such situations is to raise the head to a level position. Leveling irrigation heads is never fun, can be very time consuming and the positive results are seldom noticed. But not raising heads will lead to increased water use and compromise playing conditions. As you head into the playing season, let’s all go in being level-headed.

Source: Larry Gilhuly (

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