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How Can Golf Courses Better Conserve Water Supplies?
SPORTS PROBLEM: How can golf courses better conserve water resources and save money? We’ve all heard the news stories about how the state of California is trying to deal with a historic drought that has seriously affected their state. Since California is also home to many great golf courses, how do golf course managers deal with the many restrictions placed on them in limiting water use, and how can courses elsewhere better deal with this problem?
INTELLIGENT SPORTS SOLUTION: The USGA is using several new and innovative intelligent solutions to the ongoing issue of water conservation. Here are some new grasses that are being developed and tested to see which are best suited for the different environments in which they would be used.
Improved grasses that require less water
Since 1982, the United States Golf Association has awarded more than $18 million through its University Grants Program to research environmental issues related to the game of golf, with special emphasis on the development of new grasses that use less water and require less use of pesticides. E.g:
Turf breeders at the University of Nebraska have developed several improved varieties of buffalo grass (Buchloe dactiloides), native to the American Great Plains. This grass can replace water-intensive fairway and rough grass in a large geographic area of the Midwest, resulting in water savings of 50% or more.
Breeders at Oklahoma State University have developed improved cold-tolerant bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) seed cultivars, allowing this stress-tolerant, low-water-use grass to be established in the transition zone as a cool-season, water-intensive replacement . grass. Water savings of 30% to 50% or more can be achieved. When Ruby Hill GC in Pleasanton, Calif., was built a few years ago, its fairways and roughs were laid to bermudagrass instead of the cool-season grass used on nearly every other Northern California course. They estimate water savings of around 40% compared to similar tracks using cool season grass.
Turf breeders at the University of Georgia have developed improved varieties of sea paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum). This highly salt tolerant grass can be irrigated with high salt or brackish water with little impact on turf quality. Varieties are available for greens, tees, fairways and roughs, and some can be irrigated with water straight from the ocean!
Continuous breeding work on zoisiagrass (Texas A&M), saltgrass (Colorado State and Arizona State), annual bluegrass (University of Minnesota and Penn State), alkaligrass (Loft’s), wheatgrass (Utah State), colonial Rhode Island. ) and numerous grass species at Rutgers University and other commercial seed companies, will provide new golf grass varieties that reduce water and pesticide use for decades to come.
New technologies of irrigation systems
In recent years, tremendous strides have been made in improving the efficiency of irrigation systems through the use of technology, including:
Using sophisticated on-site weather stations, weather reporting services, and other resources to determine accurate daily replacement irrigation needs, thereby reducing over-irrigation. Considerable effort is also being made to adapt different types of sensors to assess soil moisture replacement needs, including tensiometers, porous blocks, heat dissipation blocks, neutron probes, and infrared thermometry.
Improving irrigation uniformity through careful evaluation of sprinkler head design, nozzle selection, head spacing, pipe size and pressure selection. The Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT) (Cal State University at Fresno, 5370 N. Chestnut, Fresno, CA 93740; phone 209-278-2066) is a leader in combining sprinkler uniformity and relative turf quality to achieve the greatest possible water savings on golf courses and other lawns. Many golf course irrigation design companies and individual golf courses routinely use CIT services to reduce water and energy use on the golf course.
Using state-of-the-art computerized control systems, portable hand controllers and variable frequency drive pump systems to apply water in the most efficient way to reduce water and energy consumption.
These technologies can achieve significant savings in water and energy resources. For example, the SCGA Members Club in Murrieta, California, recently installed a brand new, state-of-the-art irrigation system and reduced water usage by about 35%. And because they are able to complete their irrigation schedule in a narrow window during the night hours, their significant energy costs are reduced by about 50%.
Best Management Practices for Golf Course Irrigation
Best management practices for water conservation can be described as a combination of appropriate plant selection and cultural maintenance practices that ensure adequate golf turf quality while minimizing water use. This could include:
Selection of low-water turf, ground cover, shrubs and trees for use on the course.
Providing adequate levels of lawn nutrients, including a balance of potassium and nitrogen, while avoiding excessive levels of nitrogen.
Use of mulches in shrubs and flower beds to reduce water evaporation losses.
Adjusting the mowing height to ideal levels, depending on the type and seasonal characteristics of water use.
Using soil cultivation techniques such as shearing, cutting and core aerification to improve water infiltration and minimize runoff during irrigation or rainfall.
Improving drainage where needed to produce healthier turf with better systems that can draw moisture from more soil.
Limiting wheelbarrow traffic to paths to minimize turf wear and limit soil compaction.
Cycle irrigation sessions to ensure good infiltration and reduce runoff.
Pruning rooted trees near critical lawn areas to prevent trees from competing with the lawn for moisture and nutrients.
Alternative sources of water
During periods of drought and water restrictions, it is not difficult to understand why many communities are concerned about using potable water on the golf course, either from municipal sources or from on-site wells. In response, many golf courses have developed alternative irrigation water supplies that do not depend on potable sources. These include:
Storage ponds to collect storm runoff that might otherwise be lost and wasted.
Use of tertiary treated effluents from municipal wastewater treatment plants. This recycled water provides moisture and nutrients for the golf course while helping the municipality avoid discharging wastewater into nearby rivers. Grass does an excellent job of filtering water from nutrients and breaking down various chemicals and biological contaminants in the water. The use of recycled water on golf courses is mandatory in some locations in the Southwest, and it is estimated that more than 1,000 courses across the country currently use this water source.
Using brackish water or even ocean water to supplement other water sources. Bermuda grass is quite tolerant and marine paspalum is very tolerant of high salt water, allowing golf courses to be irrigated with brackish water that otherwise has no other use. For example, Old Collier Golf Club in Naples, Fla. plants its greens, tees, fairways and roughs on two new species of seashore paspalum that originated at the Univ. cultivation program in Georgia, and will use ocean water from a nearby estuary bay to irrigate lawns. A state-of-the-art irrigation system will allow for the precise application of this water so as not to affect native plant materials, and the entire stream will be irrigated during six off-peak hours to reduce energy costs.
Construction of an on-site reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plant to produce irrigation water from ocean water or brackish water where other supplies are unavailable or very expensive to purchase. The Everglades Club at Barrier Island Palm Beach, FL; Jupiter Island Club in Hobe Sound, FL; Sombrero Country Club in Marathon, FL; and Mahogany Run Golf Course in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, have all built RO plants in recent years and established quality, reliable, and lower-cost irrigation water supplies while allowing others in their communities to use limited drinking water supplies.
Golf course design concepts that conserve water
Today, golf course architects are using innovative design concepts to help conserve water.
Careful landscaping and good drainage design are used to collect runoff and subsurface drainage water in on-site storage ponds.
Grass and landscape areas that require water are minimized, resulting in water savings of 50% or more.
Golf courses with poor or inconsistent soils are covered with a 6-inch layer of sand to allow uniform water infiltration and significantly reduce water use by reducing runoff and avoiding excessive irrigation water applications.
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