The equipment it takes to maintain an 18-hole golf course is both varied and substantial. Depending on the course, that equipment’s worth varies from $1 million to $2.5 million in replacement costs. Not only is the equipment expensive to purchase, but it also is expensive to maintain.
In fact, it is rare to visit a golf course where there is not a least one full-time mechanic. Many courses have an additional part-time mechanic who may be a member of the grounds staff who spends part of their time working on equipment. On high-end courses it is not uncommon to have two full-time mechanics. Given the large net worth of the equipment and its need to be maintained, it is no surprise so many resources (parts and labor) are dedicated to maintaining the equipment to protect the course’s investment. And between the mechanic(s) and parts, annual costs can be $90,000 to $125,000 or more.
Depending on location and design, today’s irrigation systems are worth anywhere from $1.5 to $5 million per 18 holes. This is equal to or more than the net worth of the maintenance equipment. Therefore, it is essential the irrigation system is operational. If it isn’t, then the golf course is at risk.
If the system breaks or suffers a major failure, you cannot just pull another one out of the maintenance facility, borrow one, rent one or order a new one to have in a few weeks. Nevertheless, only a minority of golf courses have dedicated resources adequate to maintain their irrigation systems. A course usually has a small irrigation parts budget ($5,000 to $15,000 per year) and maintenance and repairs are handled on an as-needed basis, in too many cases by the assistant superintendent or superintendent themselves. Higher-end courses may have an irrigation technician who may do irrigation full time or a staff member who deals with irrigation issues. Courses in the Southwest where irrigation system operation is even more critical and systems can be very large (4,000 or more sprinklers) may have two or three irrigation technicians. A good rule of thumb would be one irrigation technician per 1,500-2,000 sprinklers.
For most owners, public agencies and private country clubs, the irrigation system is the largest investment they will ever make. Maintaining the irrigation system is imperative to maintaining high quality turf conditions and requires budgeting for both parts and labor. New systems do not require a lot of parts as they are most likely under warranty, including extended warranties on sprinklers and control system components. However, there is still a labor requirement and today’s systems, given their size, require preventive maintenance as opposed to just reactive.
If you have dedicated personnel assigned to the irrigation system, then preventive maintenance gets done. If you are reactive to irrigation issues and assign personnel to repair irrigation as needed, preventive maintenance rarely gets done. This entails testing grounds, tightening ground clamps, leveling sprinklers, setting sprinklers to grade, exercising gate valves, adjusting arcs, checking nozzles, keeping controller enclosures cleaned out and making sure the central control databases are up to date are all preventive measures. Preventive maintenance also helps you save water and electricity by keeping your system operating efficiently and maintaining high sprinkler uniformity.
You need some specialized equipment to properly maintain an irrigation system. Other than a shovel, minimally a volt-ohm meter is needed. A wire tracker and a fault finder for conventional systems are helpful, too. Decoder-based systems require more specialized equipment for the particular type of decoder system manufacturer it is. Besides troubleshooting equipment, a small, but detailed parts inventory is required consisting of repair couplings, wire connectors, sprinkler internals and an assortment of mainline and lateral fittings. Your irrigation maintenance personnel should also be trained on troubleshooting the particular manufacturer’s product installed at your course. Training is easily arranged through your local irrigation supplier.
Protect the large investment in the course’s irrigations system with preventive maintenance by means of an irrigation technician and the necessary parts inventory in your annual budget and staffing requirements.
Brian Vinchesi, the 2009 EPA WaterSense Irrigation Partner of the Year, is president of Irrigation Consulting Inc., a golf course irrigation design and consulting firm headquartered in Pepperell, Mass., that designs irrigation systems throughout the world. He can be reached at email@example.com or 978/433-8972.