June 14, 2015

May Newsletter Article - Drought and Water Use

The following article was included in our Member Newsletter earlier this year. As we move into summer, water will continue to be the discussion and I felt it important to share here as well. Enjoy!

On The Course - Maintaining a Golf Course during Drought

As we all know California is in the midst of a record drought. While we did get some much needed rains early this season, rain totals are well below average for the fourth straight year. Temperatures have also been abnormally high during this period. Since January 1, the average high temperature has been 70 degrees with just 3.4” of rain falling. Last month, Governor Jerry Brown mandated a 25% reduction of the use of potable water. While we are fortunate to have a good supply of Non- Potable water to irrigate the golf course with, we must be responsible and show we can and will do the right thing for the course and environment. Over the years, we have accomplished much in the way of becoming more efficient users of water and we are prepared to maintain the course nicely throughout the drought.
We are constantly looking at ways to be more efficient with our use of water. We evaluate the efficiency of our irrigation system on a daily basis. The course is inspected daily for wet spots or dry spots and irrigation run times are adjusted accordingly. Irrigation leaks are detected and repaired quickly. My goal has always been – NO WET SPOTS! This month, we will be going through sprinkler heads in fairways replacing all nozzles and checking pressure to ensure proper coverage is achieved and water is applied as efficiently as possible.

We’ve used hand held and in-the-ground soil sensor technology to monitor soil moisture levels for years now. The use of these sensors allows us to properly monitor soil moisture and insure that the correct amount of water is applied to a given area of turf. Our in-the-ground soil sensor data can be monitored in real time from our desk top and handheld devices.  

With our on-site weather station, we have the ability to monitor weather data in real time as well. The weather station communicates with our irrigation computer calculating daily ET (evapotranspiration) rates. This information is downloaded to the irrigation computer and used to determine appropriate sprinkler run times insuring we are replacing just the amount of water used by the turf and lost to evaporation (ET).

Over the last five years, we have seeded the tees, approaches and fairways at times of aeration with a drought tolerant Chewings Fine Fescue seed. This turf requires approximately 10% of the water needed by many other cool season grasses. Each year, as our stand of Fine Fescue multiplies, we are able to manage more for the fescue and in turn use less water. There will be times when the weaker grasses stress due to drought conditions and this is part of managing toward the desired turf species.

The use of soil surfactants (wetting agents) is an important part of our agronomic plan. A soil surfactant is a material that allows us be more efficient with our water by helping the soil to better hold on to water applied. Surfactants aid in breaking surface tension of tight soil/turf conditions allowing water to better penetrate into the root zone helping to move water deeper and more evenly. This promotes better rooting of turf and a more healthy soil condition. The Club invested in an injection system last year to deliver these materials onto the course via the irrigation system.

Organic fertilizers are an important part of building healthy soils and healthy soils use water more efficiently. These organic fertilizers make up nearly 70% of all fertilizers applied to the course.
If you are on the golf course during the summer months, you have no doubt seen the staff out hand watering various turf areas. There is no more efficient way to deliver water to the desired location than through hand watering.

We have invested much time, effort and resource into providing a high level of turf condition while being environmentally responsible with our use of water. Many of the above practices were implemented years ago, well before the drought. While these changes to our program have resulted in an improved playability of the golf course, they have also put us in position to better weather the current drought.  The majority of increase in the Golf Maintenance budget over the last few years has been directly related to the practices discussed here and I commend the Club for supporting the golf course in such a way.

The fascination with a wall to wall green golf course in California should have changed years ago.  As a responsible member of the community and the golf industry, we should be doing all we can to limit the amount of water we use, mandate or no mandate. Greens, tees and fairways can and will be kept in top condition but we need to get used to rough and areas out of play becoming more natural, un-irrigated and BROWN. As we move through the summer months, there will be more areas of off color turf and that is OK. It will come back when it rains…

Josh Clevenger - Golf Course Superintendent

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