24 Aug 2021
3 proven ways to use less water on your golf course
This year’s World Water Week theme is ‘building resilience faster.’ In the first of this three-part series, we explore three ways greenkeepers and superintendents can make irrigation changes that will have a significant impact now and in the future.
GEO was delighted to speak with Andy Brown, Senior Sales Manager - Global Business Development and Relationships at The Toro Company as he shared his thoughts on water use, sustainability, climate change and how golf courses can do more to use less water.
As a patron of GEO Foundation and global partner of the OnCourse programme, Toro supports sustainability in and through golf.
1. Monitoring what’s happening
Water use is a critical topic right now. There are many concerns about climate change, which is a broad subject. Still, equally, at the grassroots level within individual golf courses, it gets a lot of attention because irrigation is not always considered a good thing to be doing. Depending on where you are in the world, the pressures on water use are great, and they're getting greater. And the costs of irrigating and the cost of water is something that all clubs want to monitor.
One clear starting point in terms of what greenkeepers and superintendents can do would be to give a visual check. Most irrigation systems should be running at night. Unless you're there at night monitoring it, you're relying solely on the data from your control system or from what has happened to the turf over time, which of course, could be too late.
So I would always recommend that the greenkeeper should run their system at the beginning of the season, and then probably every four to six weeks, during daylight hours, so they can see that it is doing what it's supposed to be doing.
Here are a few key points worth considering when monitoring your system:
Many sprinklers get out of alignment either because somebody has adjusted them or because they've moved in the ground. And so they're not actually irrigating the part of the course they should be, and you don't often find that out until it’s too late.
Everyone familiar with holding a hosepipe is aware that you will get a straighter flow and throw of water at a decent pressure. Otherwise, you get that sort of looping effect, which can create a doughnut shape around overwatering in some areas and not enough water in others. Reviewing how your system is operating is always a straightforward check to realize what adjustments you need to make.
Most irrigation systems tend to be overused because that's the safer side for many circumstances. If it's green, then it must be okay. But actually, that probably means you're irrigating approximately 10, 15, maybe even 20 percent more than you could get away with. So play around with the system and try to find where that balance is.
And those savings are significant both in terms of water use and financially for the golf club, and it will do nothing but improve turf health. It's a no-lose situation, but you need to be careful that you're approaching it in a considered way. So doing it in smaller increments is better than one big hit.
2. Reducing your reliance on potable water
There's no doubt that water across our society is going to be in greater demand. With growing populations, increased urban areas, demand for potable water for housing, agriculture, irrigation, and a lot of water used across those areas, there will be tighter restrictions. And golf, unfortunately, is still using too much potable water.
In the UK, the figure is staggeringly somewhere in the region of 65 to 70 percent of golf clubs that are still using potable water in one form or another to irrigate their courses. And that is something that we should try to move away from for obvious reasons. Apart from anything else, there's a lot of demand for it, and it's an expensive way to irrigate your golf course.
There are going to be more availability restrictions for courses from now on. So how they use their irrigation water, wherever it's coming from, will be increasingly important. And of course, if individual clubs and the sport don't do something to manage that, it will be decided for us by regulation and other outside agencies.
Golf has a vital role in leading the way to show how to sensibly manage water use in a leisure environment, as opposed to maybe agriculture or domestic use. And golf, like any other sport or recreation, does have an important role to play in society. That's been proven throughout this pandemic period, where golf has been beneficial for mental health and exercise when other forms of exercise have not always been available.
GEO Certified Minthis Golf Club in Cyprus has a 3800m3 irrigation lake for recycled rainwater and greywater.
Higher levels of rainfall have been causing flooding in many areas globally. We've seen it this year, across Europe and in the UK as well. Golf courses could be helpful to manage that and be part of the solution.
With some good planning and strategy, support for golf courses that want to build reservoirs and store water has got to be worth considering. One example might be taking water out of a river catchment that runs through the course to help manage a flood risk downstream. This stored water could be used in peak times to reduce the reliance on other sources such as potable water when demand from housing and agriculture is high.
And the other major benefit is you help to create some wonderful habitats for flora and fauna, which, again, is something that golf courses are uniquely placed to do.
3. Minimizing irrigated turf areas
Managing golfers’ expectations around what a course will look like over the next decade or so is an important thing to consider.
Golfers need to be educated. They're not living in a vacuum, of course - they see the news and understand what climate change is, but they need to understand what it means directly for their particular situation and their golf course. Because for a lot of them, they might think, well, it's happening somewhere else. It's not. It's happening on every golf course. Everywhere in the world, these are challenges that are being addressed.
An obvious thing seen over the last decade is a reduction in the amount of irrigated turf, for instance, and the increase in the amount of either unmanaged or less managed areas of a golf course. That is because water is an issue, but equally, the cost of maintaining larger areas of golf courses is becoming prohibitive for some operations in terms of manpower, machinery time and other inputs. Managing all of that, and understanding why the golf course might have to make some difficult decisions, or maybe change the way the course is prepared, is where we need to bring golfers into the conversation.
GEO Certified Aphrodite Hills in Cyprus saves water by only targeting certain areas for irrigation.
When it comes to the golf course, sustainability is not just about environmental sustainability - that's a crucial part, and it's more important now than probably has ever been, which is excellent. However, there are at least two other parts of that puzzle. It is like a three-legged stool: you've got that environmental piece, but then you've got golfers’ expectations. Is this a course that people want to come and play? Because if it isn't, then it's not a business, it's not going to survive, and therefore all the other environmental benefits that it brings will disappear.
And then the other one is the financial viability of the golf course itself and the operation. So have clubs got the resources to invest in changes to make it more environmentally sustainable? Have they got the resources to keep the golf course prepared to a standard that the players wish to come and play?
While golf is already making great strides in building water resilience into its practices, there is still so much more to be done.
You can read parts two and three in the series below:
To see several proven examples of water-saving in action, search the sustainable golf highlights gallery now.
And please join the conversation on Twitter about World Water Week and this series of articles featuring Andy’s thoughts.