The audit comes first

  • Surtec
Pablo Muñoz Vega
By Pablo Muñoz Vega

There’s a buzz that can be heard in the nineteenth hole, in the director’s office, in the board’s committee… a buzz with questions regarding the irrigation system.

“My golf shoes are wetter now than in winter”, “I’ve lost my ball, sunken in the mud… right in the middle of the fairway”. All those comments come from the same issue: the irrigation system performance and condition. The greenkeeper begs the club manager for a new irrigation system... too expensive. “We’ll buy more new sprinkler heads next year”, “the clubhouse refurbishment keeps our financial capacity frozen”. These and other excuses are given year after year, while the irrigation system suffers. The risk of a future failure in the system that could expose the course to severe damage will be present. Furthermore, this situation implies waste of water and energy, inefficiency on the greenkeeping teamwork timings, economic losses and, of course, poor golf course condition.

In my experience, after performing more than 50 irrigation audits worldwide, before any prompt conclusion or a decision is made, an irrigation audit should be performed first. Even if the decision of renovating the full irrigation system has been approved after a terrible irrigation season, the audit should be carried out. So many examples come to my head. A course in France was considering a full irrigation system renovation because fairways were full of dry circular patches (doughnuts). The irrigation foreman had opened the sprinkler pressure regulator to its maximum, thinking that this would help for a better uniformity. The pressure was so high that the sprinklers were throwing mist instead of water. The wind was doing the rest – there was no head-to-head overlapping and dry patches came onto the scene. The problem was solved with a screwdriver.

I found a similar situation in east Spain, where dry and wet patches were present all around the course. The sprinkler nozzles were not adequate (they were the ones the dealer sold to them because they had them in stock), thus leading to terrible uniformity. With less than 10,000 euros, the problem was solved. In Colombia, a recently installed system was not performing as expected. The problem was an error in pump suction lift calculation (it was a prefabricated pump station). The pumps were not working properly, the sprinklers did not have enough pressure to operate, and consequently, a number of turf areas died. The solution did not require much more than a new suction pipe and a pre-filter.

Helping course irrigation staff by providing them with specific technical knowledge has worked very well many times. Many hours are spent daily with the dry spots, leakages, moisture sensors and so on. This leaves no time for self-formation; and opportunities for continuous learning in irrigation are very rare and almost non-existent. Consequently, parameters are wrongly configured in the software or in the pump station, or sprinklers are not configured properly.

An irrigation audit can simplify the solution for ‘apparently’ big problems. It will determine if a new project is, or is not, necessary; and how critical that investment is for every club’s specific context and scenario. If the decision is that a brand new project is the solution, the audit will a) help save money by determining which irrigation items need to be replaced and which could be kept; and b) provide the valuable data of the return on investment. No doubt about it: in golf course irrigation, the audit is the first step for success.

Pablo Muñoz Vega, founder partner at Surtec Golf Agronomy, is a certified golf irrigation designer and auditor

This article first appeared in the October 2020 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.