With new course construction, there is usually a clubhouse built at some point. The irrigation is pretty straight forward as it is installed by whoever ends up doing the clubhouse landscaping – in most cases an outside contractor. The big decision is whether it has its own water source and/or control system or does it come from the golf course. It’s usually the same, but this doesn’t always holds true for large projects. The clubhouse often has its own supply, but if it’s your water, it should be under your control, regardless of whether you maintain the clubhouse grounds.
Courses often improve the clubhouse irrigation when the course irrigation system is upgraded. This may include the pool area, entrance, and tennis courts. The key question becomes, do you let the golf course irrigation contractor install the landscape irrigation system? In most cases, I would say no and for the same reasons I would not let the landscape irrigation contractor install the golf course irrigation system – a lack of experience. Just like landscape contractors are not familiar with installing golf systems, the golf course irrigation contractor, in most cases, is not used to installing small landscape irrigation systems. You may have had a great experience with your irrigation contractor, but that was not a landscape, it was a golf course.
Let’s look at the bigger issues. Most landscape contractors have never installed pipe greater than 2 inches and most golf contractors have never installed pipe less than 2 inches. Landscape contractors deal with two wires, both the same type; one wire per zone plus a common. Golf contractors use as many as 72 sprinkler wires, plus at least one common per controller, power wires, communication wires and possibly a shield wire. Other wires for special equipment, such as fountains and aerators, might also be included. Golf course contractors know how to ground and wire splice. Landscape contractors – for the most part – don’t. Then, there is the issue of thrust blocking … need I say more?
Price is the other big issue. Golf contractors figure their labor costs like they’re installing for golf. As a result, the landscape irrigation system is double or more what a landscape contractor charges. Part of this is they never seem to get the materials right. They use swing joints as opposed to swing pipe, they use HDPE pipe in small sizes instead of PE pipe. They overdo it with fitting type and strength and put the pipe in too deep. No wonder the costs are high. It is impossible to get the price on the landscape irrigation from the golf irrigation installer.
Recently, I worked on three different clubhouse projects. One was a private course building a large clubhouse. The second an existing private course getting a pro shop, tennis courts, cart barn, parking, pool house and clubhouse addition with new landscape, but the landscape had been installed before the irrigation. The third was irrigation for existing clubhouse landscape at a public course. The new and existing landscape projects were getting controllers. The third expanded several existing course controllers. All were to communicate with the course’s central control system and were receiving water from the course piping system.
The new clubhouse project irrigation was extensive. The cost from the golf irrigation contractor was almost as much as the cost of the 18-hole system! Basically, the contractor used inappropriate materials, was installing too deep and had too much labor (6,000 hours). Just doing the materials correctly was a $125,000 savings. On the course with the installed landscape, they asked the golf irrigation contractor last October to provide a clubhouse price from an irrigation design plan. They are still waiting.
When doing clubhouse and landscape irrigation on your course, weight your options so you get a well-installed irrigation system from an experienced landscape irrigation contractor at an economical price.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 978/433-8972.