Improve irrigation to improve your course

Improve irrigation to improve your course
By Klaus Sienholz

The modern golfer – who takes trips to top golf destinations and experiences new or newly-renovated local courses – has high expectations. Flawless course conditions call for high-performance sprinkler technology: modern systems save water and energy, ensure a uniform level of course quality and relieve the burden on the greenkeeping team.

During renovation or redesign, opportunities present themselves to increase standards by renewing, optimising and/or expanding the system. A prerequisite for success is careful advance planning and targeted selection of the system, which must be aligned to the individual course conditions.

Decoder systems have become the standard in Europe over recent years. The advance of this technology has been down to inexpensive installation with relatively easy cabling and a high degree of flexibility, including in relation to retrospective course expansion. Systems are available on the market with separate individual components consisting of solenoid and decoder, as well as a combination of both. Looking at ongoing costs, the systems consisting of individual components are clearly preferable, as if any repairs are needed they are less expensive than the combined product and you do not make yourself dependent on one manufacturer. The choice of control system should always facilitate combining pop-up sprinklers from different manufacturers, not least to enable participation in technical advances.

As the brains of the entire sprinkler system, the control software undoubtedly represents the most important part of the set-up. Reliability should be the primary selection criterion. Breakdowns during dry summer months inevitably lead to costly damage to the course.

Any modern control system has integrated flow management. This constantly tells the software how much water can be distributed around the golf course – taking into account pump capacity, the pipe system and the sprinklers. The aim has to be to water the entire course within a timeframe of eight hours. It goes without saying that a prerequisite for this is professional advance planning of the hydraulic system.

Simple programming and adaptation options via a user-friendly interface should be given. A true-to-scale graphic of the whole course also makes everyday work easier and provides an accurate overview.

A service module should also be incorporated for when any maintenance needs to be done. Decoder tests and tension checks allow any faults that may arise to be localised and remedied simply and easily.

Access to the control system via the Internet and especially via the greenkeeper’s smartphone is nowadays a fundamental requirement. Internet access is an important tool for flexible operation and for diagnosing the status of the sprinkler system. The greenkeeper is thus spared having to walk long distances and any faults or problems are identified even as they start to emerge.

Often written off and yet still with key benefits, impact sprinklers offer some specific advantages. Thanks to larger drops being formed,this type of sprinkler is able to develop much better wind resistance, which is particularly beneficial in exposed locations. Even though the upkeep of these sprinklers requires a greater degree of care, they are nevertheless the first choice in certain regions, such as on the coast or in mountain valleys. The service life of these sprinklers is also unsurpassed. Life cycles of over 20 years are not rare.

Wittenbeck Golf Resort on the German Baltic Sea coast operates its complete system using this type of sprinkler. Trials with gear drive sprinklers failed primarily due to the wind conditions that prevail there.

Further advantages of this type of sprinkler are that they enable watering using greywater, dew watering, cooling of courses even while in use (thanks to the high rotary speed) and the setting of sectors without any tools. Their high resistance to frost can also be a further selection criterion in regions where severe frosts are common.

Highly precise distribution, reliability and simple maintenance are some of the advantages of gear drive sprinklers. The very high level of distribution accuracy in particular helps in decisively raising the quality of the areas concerned and also makes huge savings on water and pumping power costs thanks to shorter run times. The Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT) provides users with the necessary data on this. Denso-grams, CU and DU values and SC details give important guidance on the best possible choice of sprinkler. Modern sprinklers achieve top values in terms of distribution accuracy of up to 93 per cent (CU value) or of up to 90 per cent (DU value).

The latest generation of golf sprinklers also makes it possible for all maintenance to be done from above with no earth works required at all. In addition to the usual components, such as the sprinkler gears, foot valve, etc., it is also possible to service and where necessary replace the solenoids (valve-in-head sprinklers) and even the decoders inside the sprinkler via access from above. A key factor when it comes to overload damage, which in recent years has unfortunately occurred with increasing regularity due to climate change. The Rhein-Wied Golf Club near Cologne, for example, opted for such sprinklers due to the simple way in which they can be maintained.

No blanket statement can be made about which type of sprinkler drive system to choose. The local conditions, expectations and also the available budget can be decisive factors here. Installing a ‘mix’ is alsowholly conceivable. High levels of water distribution on the greens, approaches and tees using gear drive sprinklers and high wind resistance and long service on the fairways using impact sprinklers can often represent an optimum alternative. Föhr Golf Club, for example, picked precisely this solution in order to compensate in the best possible way for the wind conditions on the North Sea island.

Simultaneous activation of sprinklers via a solenoid valve is found in the main on the tees. However watering of the green too by block control, where all or multiple sprinklers on and around it are controlled by one valve, is widespread. Dimensioning here is based on the flow rates required in each case. Here too the market offers a vast range of different versions. While manual switching between On, Off and Automatic is still the norm, with most solenoid valves on the market there is no so-called pressure regulator or none is fitted as standard. The pressure regulator ensures that the pressure is the same at every point of the system. Without this feature the pressure at areas installed close to the pumps is much higher than that a lot further away.The aim, however, should be to ensure that the pressure at the sprinklers is as equal as possible at every point of the sprinkler system. Assuming the hydraulic layout of the pump station is correct, this is possible using the pressure regulators.

In relation to the service life of solenoid valves, the casing material plays a decisive role. As you will know, these valves are installed in valve boxes that are buried in the ground.

They are exposed there to diverse weather conditions. Minus 10C in winter and 30C in the summer are normal temperature fluctuations that solenoid valves have to survive. As everyone knows, plastic has a relatively high coefficient of expansion. The water normally gets fed to the valves via PE pipes. As a result of the great contraction and expansion of the PE pipes due to the changes in temperature, the valves’ casing units get subjected to enormous levels of tension. This effect can be practically eliminated by choosing a metal valve (generally made of gunmetal).

Who hasn’t been irritated by having to wait in a queue on a telephone provider’s hotline?

Do we want to have this too for our technically sophisticated and also expensive sprinkler system? Or would it not be better and more effective to speak directly to a competent employee about your current problem and to resolve it as quickly as possible?

Unfortunately, cost pressures and profit maximisation repeatedly lead to such user-hostile developments. However, market-oriented installation firms and manufacturers continue to offer direct, personal assistance and support in the event of any problems. With regard in particular to long-lasting, trouble-free and inexpensive operation of the system it is advisable to gain detailed information on this from the marketplace.

Many manufacturers and installation companies also offer regular training sessions for maintenance teams. The skills and abilities acquired greatly improve their everyday work and thus also reduce expensive costs in relation to working time and personnel.

Whether building a new golf course or renovating or redesigning an existing one, the aim is to create a course of permanently high quality. The sprinkler system has a major influence here on course conditions. Careful, professional planning in advance coupled with modern and effective equipment are the prerequisite. Ready-made solutions off the shelf are not possible here. Every golf course needs a bespoke conceptual design in order to obtain the best possible results. As the name ‘sprinkler system’ already indicates, we are dealing here with a system made up of diverse components that have to work together: from the water supply, via the necessary supply lines and control cables all the way to the sprinklers and watering software, perfect interplay between the individual parts is absolutely essential. Ultimately, an optimum solution benefits the operator, the greenkeeping team and the golfers.

Klaus Sienholz is golf division manager for German-based irrigation specialist Perrot-Regnerbau.

This article first appeared in Issue 37 of Golf Course Architecture

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