The Art of Handwatering
There are many reasons for modern day handwatering. Perhaps the
main one is to compensate for a poorly designed automatic
irrigation system. Other reasons include water conservation, soil
textural differences, syringing to cool the grass plant, and hand
watering makes possible consistent quality putting surfaces under
certain conditions, such as severe elevation changes. There are
Handwatering is still the best way to place a specific quantity
of water on a specific area of turf. All it takes is a discerning
eye, a soil probe, a hose, nozzle, valve key, and, of course, a
source of water. It would be interesting to know how many of the
12,000 golf courses in the United States handwater at least some
putting surfaces during a growing season. It would also be
interesting to know the principal reason for handwatering.
Each of the four golf courses where I have worked handwatered
putting greens and occasionally tees and fairways. The membership
at Overlake Golf and Country Club appreciates optimum turf
conditions. As a result, we put in approximately 300 man-hours
each summer handwatering putting greens and tees. It's an
important part of our program.
Some of the reasons for handwatering deserve closer scrutiny.
Poor Sprinkler Coverage:
Some of us have irrigation systems that are not quite what we
would like. We must compensate so that we do not end up with
muddy spots or areas that are so dry turf loss is possible. Some
of our automatic irrigation systems don't give us proper
coverage because of improper spacing, improper operating
pressure, poor maintenance practices, and poor or inadequate
programming potential. As a result, we must do supplemental
handwatering to compensate for the deficiencies in the automatic
Soil Texture Differences:
Some of the putting surfaces on our golf courses have different
textured soils. As a result, we must irrigate for the putting
surface as a whole unit. The results vary with dry aprons, wet
aprons and even localized dry spots on both greens and aprons.
The soils have different permeability rates, which affect our
watering schedules. We must compensate, therefore, by
handwatering the areas that do not receive enough water. Some of
our soils take water so slowly we must water them until runoff
occurs, then come back and water them again 30 to 60 minutes
During the summer of 1987, many Seattle golf courses were
required to cut back automatic irrigation because of a severe
water shortage. This occurs more frequently today, and we must
have alternative watering techniques that will apply water in the
exact amounts we need at the proper places. Many Seattle golf
courses found out in 1987 that handwatering is the best
To Cool Grass Plants That Are Under Stress:
Many times during the summer, temperatures, hours of intense
sunlight, and wind combine to dry out turf to the point that it
literally wilts. Some courses have added irrigation that will
cool the air automatically in the vicinity of the greens. The
idea is to lower the air temperature around the leaf surfaces by
fogging the air and allowing the grass plant to continue a
balanced transpiration rate. Those of us who cannot do this
automatically must have experienced personnel who can spot these
conditions and act quickly. Remember, we are only cooling off the
leaf tissue, not wetting the soil. Technically, this is called
To Keep Consistent Putting Greens:
This is one very important reason for handwatering. I say this
because it embodies all the reasons already discussed. As one who
provides a service to people who want to enjoy the game of golf,
I feel one of my most important goals is to provide the best
putting greens I possibly can. This includes a number of cultural
practices, one of which is irrigation. It is of the utmost
importance that we make every effort to provide putting surfaces
that are smooth, true, of consistent speed, and that will hold a
properly struck golf shot. Even the best-designed irrigation
system will not produce a green with uniform moisture content
throughout. They usually provide too much water to the middle of
each green. Furthermore, many greens have high areas and low
areas which result in localized dry spots and wet spots. Another
problem encountered is hydrophobic areas on greens. There is no
escaping these without good management, which includes proper
handwatering and some type of spiking or aeration.
Is there a right way and a wrong way to handwater? There
certainly is. Handwatering the wrong way can do as much damage to
the playing surface as no watering at all. A workman is asked to
go out and handwater new seed or certain dry areas on greens. All
he takes with him is a one-inch hose, a quick coupler, and his
thumb. The hose is hooked up. The water gushes under high
pressure, and his thumb soon grows tired or cold in trying to
break up the flow. He does not apply the water in a showering
manner, but instead directs the high-pressure flow right into the
turf, as if to force its penetration. The turf soon looks
bedraggled and not unlike a gully-washer has passed by. Too much
of this and erosion begins to set in and the playing surface is
Every morning I take a walk on the course while my crew is doing
the greens mowing and bunker raking. While I am walking, I look
at every green and tee, and take soil probe samples to test the
soil moisture level. I also observe the surface for leaf color
and hardness of the surface. I watch the mowers and their effect
on the surface, and I also ask the person setting cups what the
soil moisture level seems to be like to him. This first trip
around the course helps me see areas that could become a problem
if weather conditions are just right. Throughout the day, I
monitor the wind, speed, and temperatures.
I have been at Overlake Golf and Country Club long enough now to
recognize where the hot spots usually occur, and we tend to
concentrate our observation on these areas.
Each day we usually handwater greens twice and tees once. We must
be flexible and do whatever we feel we need to as often as
I train anywhere from four to six people on my crew on how to
handwater so they do it in the most efficient and effective
manner possible. We use 100 feet of one-inch hose and a cooling
or shower-type nozzle for the majority of our handwatering. At
least one person goes out on each nine around 10 a.m. and again
at 12:30 p.m. They go in reverse order and occasionally skip
around until they have done all of the greens and tees.
Occasionally, we will treat dry spots with wetting agents to aid
water penetration. We will spike the areas with i/-inch aerifier
tines to help the water penetrate and keep our greens as
uniformly consistent as possible.
When we handwater, we are careful not to apply so much water it
lies on the green for longer than one minute. It just so happens
that the time of day we must be out handwatering coincides with
the time of day our golf course tends to be the busiest, and we
do not want to interfere with play any more than necessary.
I have been trying for years to find ideas that can make
handwatering necessary only on rare occasions. I have not made
much progress so far. Some of the ideas we tried have been
successful in cutting down labor, but they don't allow us to
eliminate handwatering totally. Most golfers at private clubs
want tournament putting conditions, and they do not want to
contend with golf course workers when they are on the course.
Does this situation sound familiar? We do not exactly have that
happening at Overlake, but we seem to be pleasing the golfers,
and here's how we do it.
We have a new (1985) state-of-the-art automatic irrigation system
that was designed by an excellent engineer. We try to schedule it
in a manner that will furnish optimum irrigation at least for the
lower and more level areas on the course.
We apply liquid wetting agents through the irrigation system
about once every two to three weeks. We aerify greens twice each
year, except the dry, hard or too wet areas which get spiked two
or three times more.
We topdress our greens with good-quality 30/50 sand eight to 10
times a year during the growing season.
We apply most of our fertilizer at 1/8 to 1/4 pound of potassium
and nitrogen per 1,000 square feet every other week in a spray
solution. We verticut greens very lightly with groomers twice
each week. We mow greens every day at 5/32 of an inch during the
And, of course, we handwater our greens as needed to keep them
healthy and, foremost of all, playable.
Our Stimpmeter putting speeds range from 71/2 to 8 feet in winter
and 81/2 to 9 feet in the spring, summer, and fall.
If you want consistent, playable greens, you must consider
handwatering as part of your routine putting green maintenance.
Try it and I think you'll agree, it's an art worth
"Handwatering?" Did someone say,
"Handwatering?" In this day of spending hundreds of
thousands of dollars on one automatic irrigation system, some
believe handwatering on the golf course is passe. Not quite yet.