From Sensors to Solid Metal Nozzles: Seven Steps to Saving Water on Golf Courses

With on-going droughts, rising energy costs and shrinking budgets, many superintendents spend a lot of time thinking about new ways to conserve water and energy ‚ while still keeping their courses inviting and playable.
Golf accounts for 0.5 percent of annual water usage in the U.S., according to a study released by the Golf Course Superintendents Assn. of America, and more than 86 percent of courses use sources other than fresh-water systems. Yet irrigation and energy are among the costliest items in a course’s annual budget.
Experienced course managers know there are many practical steps that can be taken to improve irrigation efficiency, delivering immediate results in water and energy savings. You’re probably very familiar with most of them, but there’s one new step that’s only recently been recognized by superintendents as being among their most effective tools,the solid metal nozzle switch-out. But we’ll discuss that shortly.

Water Conservation Checklist
High on the list of ways to conserve water are:
Let Nature Takes Its Course,Back Native turfgrass and undergrowth can add visual interest and greater challenge to a course, while cutting water and energy expenses. By converting out of-normal play areas to natural growth, you’ll eliminate a number of irrigation zones and much of the labor to maintain it.
“As our course transforms from wall-to-wall green, the seasonal appearance will become more apparent,” says Superintendent Paul Chojnacky, at Pasatiempo Golf Course in Santa Cruz, CA, who prepared a case study about his course’s transition to natural.
“The course will resemble the natural California landscape with green in the winter and spring, and golden brown dominating the hillsides and out-of-play areas in the summer and fall. ,providing an increased aesthetic interest for golfers and return to the rugged impression (course designer) Alister MacKenzie envisioned.”
Increase Turf Height Take a look at your fairways and roughs. By making minimal adjustments to the height of your turf cut, you will typically see savings in water usage because taller grasses naturally require less water. (This is not recommended for greens.)

Cut Back on Hand Watering,. Use Wetting Agents There are many new wetting agents that do a good job of distributing the water in the soil so it does not dry out. They also help eliminate the need for labor-intensive hand-watering.

Soil Probes and Moisture Sensors Using a soil probe helps to measure moisture content, so you can determine if your course is getting too much (or too little) water. When using hand-held probes, such as those made by Spectrum Technologies, the superintendent can perform an irrigation audit “in the soil” to determine the uniformity of the sprinklers. There is also an option to map the readings using GPS and down load the data to produce reports on a PC.
A more technically-advanced method would be to install a moisture sensor that gives you real time data on course conditions, so you can adjust your irrigation scheduling based on actual soil/moisture analyses.
Sensors monitor moisture, temperature and salinity and feed the data to a software network accessed remotely on a laptop, a handheld device or a desktop computer.
Fewer than 100 of the estimated 15,700 golf courses in the U.S. have sensors installed. Among the leaders in sensor technology are UgMo, a network of wireless sensors that mine surface subsurface data and link to a software package developed by Advanced Sensor Technology. Other companies manufacturing moisture sensors are Toro of Bloomington, Minnesota, and Environmental Sensors of Victoria, British Columbia.
“We were a very efficient operation to start with, “ said Shawn Emerson, superintendent at Desert Mountain Golf Club, a complex of six courses with 500 acres of turf in the desert Southwest.
“With UgMo sensors we only water when the soil tells us it needs to be watered.”
He said the club would save a total of more than 100 million gallons of effluent water, or an average of between 18 million and 20 million gallons per course for the year. That would mean roughly $130,000 in savings based on current prices.

Ponds, Pipes and Rainwater Put Mother Nature to work by installing a pond or two to catch rainwater and then run pipes to direct the water where you need it. Sure, there’s labor involved, but come next drought, you could have a ready supply of water, without asking the city or county to provide it.

Monitor and Maintain the Irrigation System,Every Day Small irrigation problems always turn into big irrigation problems. Leaky heads or valves, over-spraying on perimeters or hardscape, clogged or worn-out nozzles,these are the culprits that run up the water bill. Keeping a sharp eye on the system will help ensure efficient performance.
One of the single most practical fixes to improve uniformity and reduce the wet spot/dry spot syndrome is to raise sunken sprinklers and to make sure they are level. This can improve uniformity by 20 percent (verifiable by pre- and post-activity irrigation audits).
With improved uniformity, a course may not need to increase the storage capacity of a current irrigation lake or pond and can also reduce runoff from over-watering, further improving overall water quality.

Go For the Gold, Switch Out Deteriorating Plastic Nozzles In the last five years, golf courses across the U.S. have found that replacing their aging plastic golf nozzles with solid metal nozzles has measurably improved their irrigation distribution uniformity, while cutting back on water and energy use.
It’s a relatively easy procedure and will typically deliver eight to 10 years of reliable performance. Often, the solid metal nozzles will outlast the actual rotor.
So why aren’t more golf courses switching over? And why aren’t manufacturers supplying rotors with solid metal nozzles?
First, many superintendents haven’t had an opportunity to see first-hand how effective metal nozzles can be,.and then there’s the investment for both the nozzles and the labor for the switch-outs, though the water savings typically pay for the nozzles in less than two years.
And second, most manufacturers would rather sell a new rotor, rather than switch out worn, clogged plastic nozzles.

Courses That Have Switched Over to Solid Metal
American Golf Corp. manages more than 110 private, resort and daily fee courses in the U.S. and use millions of gallons of water each year. With irrigation costs running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the company has undertaken a pro-active effort to conserve large amounts of water on southern California courses by retrofitting sprinklers with solid metal nozzles.
“We are working with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which has been offering rebates to golf courses that switch out plastic nozzles to metal nozzles,” reported Scott Bourgeois, American Golf’s southern California director of maintenance.
“At American Golf, we are committed to being good environmental stewards and to finding new ways to reduce water consumption,” he said.
“This program is an excellent opportunity to participate in a beneficial partnership with the MWD to help achieve water conservation goals,” he said.

Improving the Distribution Uniformity Rate
Launched two summers ago at the Sea Cliff Country Club in Huntington Beach, CA, the American Golf retrofit replaces factory-installed plastic nozzles with FCI Profile solid metal nozzles with stainless steel orifices. The solid metal nozzles have been shown in extensive testing (at the Center for Irrigation Technology) to increase distribution uniformity (DU) and save water.
The American Golf retrofit is projected to include nearly 20 courses in four southern California counties and encompass more than 20,000 nozzle switch-outs.
“The reason we applied for and participated in the MWD nozzle change- out program was to reduce our water consumption,” said Bourgeois.
“Operating as good environmental stewards is very important to American Golf Corporation.
“An obvious byproduct of the nozzle change-out program from a customer perspective was to improve turf conditions through water distribution uniformity, which ultimately will improve playing conditions.”
The DU rate indicates whether a sprinkler is delivering uniform irrigation coverage and is typically a barometer of turf condition. A low DU rate shows that coverage is inconsistent, resulting in dry spots, donuts or over-watered, saturated areas. A high DU rate shows that irrigation application is uniform, resulting in healthier turf and improved appearance. With a higher DU rate, sprinklers can be programmed for shorter run times, saving water and energy.
“Switching out nozzles is not just a ‘West Coast tool,’” says Kurt Thompson, a irrigation water use consultant and trainer with offices in Huntersville, NC and Pace, FL.
“Improving uniformity by retrofitting sprinklers with metal nozzles is not only for arid West Coast courses,” he says.
“There is a significant opportunity for golf courses east of the Mississippi to benefit by using these nozzles to solve coverage problems on greens and throughout a fairway.
“A key economic advantage of this solution is that it can be done in-house by the irrigation staff, as directed by the superintendent to meet the scheduling and budgetary needs of a course,” he said.
Thompson cautions that the most effective results come from completing a system evaluation first in order to evaluate all the circumstances and conditions affecting the system’s uniformity.
“That way the superintendent and course management are aware of all the options available to them to increase uniformity and conserve resources,”
He said.

Extensive Testing at the Center for Irrigation Technology
The recent field study, conducted by the Center for Irrigation Technology (California State University, Fresno), covered 108 holes (on 6- to 18- hole courses). The FCI Profile solid metal stainless steel nozzles reduced water consumption in one season by an average of six percent, and up to 20 percent on some sites. They have also been used successfully to prevent wind-drift.
Golf industry studies have shown that an average six percent water savings can add up to 800,000 to 9,000,000 gallons per course per year, depending on locality and rainfall.
At Sea Cliff, Bourgeois anticipates water savings at a rate of five percent per year, which translates to six to 10 million gallons annually. With nearly 20 American Golf courses scheduled for nozzle retrofits, the water savings is projected to add up to hundreds of millions of gallons per year.
Kevin Hutchins, superintendent at Mission Viejo Country Club in southern California, has retrofitted his entire new Rain Bird irrigation system with solid metal nozzles:
“We found that FCI Profile nozzles apply water more efficiently and eliminate turf stress.
“Our course has sandy soil conditions and the original plastic nozzles were plugging up. The new full-metal nozzles are more sand-tolerant and have improved course appearance and eliminated unsightly dry spots,” he said.
At the Los Angeles Country Club, Superintendent Bruce Williams had several issues. The irrigation was uneven and the course had noticeable donuts and patchy dry spots. When more water was applied to compensate, over-saturation was the result.
“We heard about solid metal nozzles and replaced the plastic nozzles on 2,200 heads. This eliminated donuts while also improving irrigation uniformity,while saving water. We have been very pleased with the results.”

California Rebate Program
In southern California, conservation-conscious municipal water districts are offering rebates to golf courses that retrofit Rain Bird and Toro sprinklers with FCI Profile solid metal nozzles, the only nozzles approved for the southern California golf course rebate program.
Featuring solid brass nozzles and stainless steel outlets, FCI Profile nozzles are used to replace Rain Bird Eagle Series 700 and 900 plastic nozzles (with 1 ¼” and 1 ½” inlets) and Toro Golf models 670, 690, 730, 750, 760, 780, 830, 850 and DT series nozzles (with 1” and 1 ½” inlets).
The FCI Profile replacement sets include nozzles for full-circle, mid-range and close-in coverage. All nozzles are also color-coded for easy field identification.
FCI Profile solid metal nozzles are manufactured by Underhill International and rebate documentation assistance is available from Underhill for courses that qualify.

Ed Underhill is president of Underhill International, a southern California company that manufactures water-efficient irrigation products for golf courses. He has worked in the industry for 15 years. Information and quotes on golf course sensors first appeared in a New York Times article ( on golf courses (May 2009). Information on natural golf courses first appeared in an article in GCM (January 2010).
(Cover Photo provided by Underhill International)

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