COURSE CARE
Save Resources With Tee Top Irrigation July 23, 2014 By James F. Moore

The polygon outlined in yellow represents the area around tee complexes many courses irrigate to produce high quality turf. The area of this polygon is approximately 45, 268 square feet. The tee tops are identified by the red polygons and encompass an area of approximately 3000 square feet. Irrigating only the tee tops can result in as much as a 90% reduction in water in this area alone. 

If you want to learn how to do with less water it only makes sense to travel to places where water is extremely scarce and expensive. And, if you want to learn how some of the country’s best golf courses have adapted to huge reductions in water availability for turfgrass irrigation, it only makes sense to head west to California. I had the good fortune to make such a trip this past week along with Ron Whitten of Golf Digest magazine. We visited a variety of courses that have implemented water saving techniques ranging from complete course renovation to simply turning sprinklers off in areas that seldom come into play.  

One of the greatest challenges for courses that need to reduce their water consumption is that it is often necessary to spend money to save water. For example, replacing an outdated irrigation system with one that employees the latest technology and that is designed with water conservation in mind can result in extraordinary reductions in water consumption. However, with many courses already struggling financially, the cost of a new irrigation system may be prohibitive.  

Fortunately, there is a very inexpensive step that can be taken by virtually all courses that can significantly reduce water consumption as well as result in savings in fuel, labor and other resources. Simply eliminate the irrigation of the turf areas surrounding tees. As the adjacent photos illustrate, the Pasatiempo  Golf Course in Santa Cruz, Calif., utilizes this technique with great success. Using Google Earth Pro, I have drawn a yellow polygon to illustrate the area that many golf courses irrigate in order to maintain high quality turf around the tees and extending to the fairway. The total area of the yellow polygon is just over one acre at 45, 268 square feet. The total irrigated area of the two tee complexes (outlined in red) is approximately 3,000 square feet. In other words, on this single hole Pasatiempo has reduced the irrigated area by over 90 percent. Since grass does not grow much without water, they have also realized savings in mowing which means reductions in fuel and labor as well. As the lower half of the photo shows, this type of irrigation scheme results in dry, brown areas. Golfers and golf course superintendents will have to learn to tolerate a different look than they may be used to seeing.  

Tee top irrigation does not have to mean a complete redesign of the irrigation system. While it would be great to have adjustable part-circle heads along the tee’s perimeter (or some other design), simply turning off heads that are not needed by the tee is a good, no-cost option.  

Communication efforts emphasizing the fact that this type of water conservation does not impact playing quality are the key to “selling” the technique. This communication effort is greatly enhanced when a golf magazine like Golf Digest and a golf writer like Ron Whitten are willing to carry the message to millions of golfers.  

Source: James F. Moore (jmoore@usga.org)

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