I’m usually a big proponent of technology, of adopting new equipment and ideas to make golf better. However, we need to reconsider one of the most significant changes of the past few decades in light of evidence that is most obvious to us, green superintendents.
It may be time to take a hard line against soft spikes.
About 20 years ago, there was a major revolution in golf. The 6- to 8-mm metal spike was replaced by the plastic “soft spike” following an uproar about the damage that metal spikes were doing to turfgrass, particularly putting greens.
Fast forward to today and take a look at the bottom of golf shoes. Actually, if you’re a superintendent, you don’t have to examine the shoes themselves: Walk on any green and you’ll easily see how spike technology has changed. These “soft” spikes are getting longer, sharper, wider and more aggressive, so as a result, they are inflicting more and more damage on our courses.
The same week that the golf industry was convening – and showing off a host of new shoe styles – at the PGA Show in Florida, I conducted a random survey of superintendents, asking them how plastic spikes have affected them. While the shoe manufacturers were introducing soles with more spikes and other “points of contact” (POCs) designed to give golfers better traction and stability, I received these comments from some of our brethren.
“It is no secret that golf has been on the decline for the last 5-plus years, yet the demand for conditioning, with fast and firm greens, has increased,” wrote one superintendent. “Why do shoe manufactures continue to produce shoes that do everything to frustrate other golfers and those that are employed to provide the conditions? The firmest, driest greens do not withstand a foursome of golfers wearing these types of spikes. The scuffing, unintentional scuffing, and twisting of turf, especially around the cup, ruins the putting surface for every golfer that follows.”
“Some of the newer spikes are so aggressive – long, tall, robust – we are seeing scuff marks and scars on the greens,” someone told me. “Rather than pressing into the turf, these new spikes seem to grab and hold onto the turf, causing more shearing and tearing of low-cut grass. When feet twist and turn, it’s almost as if the spikes are ‘reverse ball repair tools.’”
You can quickly see the main themes in these comments, which were repeated in the many others I received: the new spikes are doing more damage at a time when golf is already in trouble, and that damage is at least as bad as what metal spikes used to do.
Shoes used to have eight or nine metal spikes. Now shoes have six to 12 “spikes” each with five or so prongs, plus dozens, sometimes hundreds more points of contact of various sizes, depths, and sharpness. Adidas has a new shoe with 18 spikes, each of those spikes has five POCs, so that’s 180 impressions from each golfer with every step.
This extra damage increases maintenance costs – chemicals, topdressing sand and additional staff to maintain turf quality. Depending on the region and the weather, the damage can be exaggerated when it’s wet (in the Northwest), hot (stressed turf in the Northeast and central states), and on dormant grass (Southeast, Florida). Early and late in the season, growth can be severely compromised by damage to the plant.
What can we do? The GCSAA needs to push the USGA and PGA of America, as well as the manufacturers, to evaluate the damage incurred by these “soft” spikes.
In the meantime, some suggestions for the individual superintendent:
When soft spikes became the norm, courses were quick to tell golfers that they couldn’t wear metal spikes. We need a new educational initiative – backed by shoe manufacturers and all the organizations responsible for growing, protecting and enhancing the game. The “soft” spike is making it “hard” for all of us to enjoy the game.
It’s time to delete the cleat.
Golf course superintendents should be proactive in providing a complete maintenance equipment inventory, five-year equipment replacement program – updated annually – and a comprehensive preventative equipment maintenance program.
As a result, long-term cash-flow projections to course and club officials for equipment replacement can be made accurately regardless of whether the equipment is purchased or leased. With thorough documentation procedures in place, a superintendent can accurately determine if each piece of equipment costs too much for repairs or if it’s best to replaced. These programs are worthwhile so that capital and leased operating cost funding is available annually to replace worn-out equipment and to acquire new technology on a regular basis.
In addition, a comprehensive equipment-replacement chart is a helpful guide for projecting when to replace equipment.
Maintenance equipment inventory
Efficient, routine maintenance equipment inventories, updated annually, include extensive line items such as: date of purchase; equipment description; where it will be used; original prices and sales taxes; replacement costs; model number; serial number; model and serial number of all attachments such as engine, transmission, cutting units and verticut reels; original expected life; current expected life; when the warranty expires; equipment shop number; and depreciation (if purchased).
The original expected life and current life expectancy should be updated annually, showing where some equipment may last longer than projected, or that equipment may not last nearly as long as originally projected. Also, the trend to lease equipment that normally does not last as long, such as all mowers, turf vehicles, and bunker rakes, and purchasing longer-lasting equipment, such as tractors, loader/backhoes, dump trucks, and trenchers, has gained in popularity.
|To see the full list of the Equipment Replacement Guide, click the image above.|
There should be two pieces of motorized equipment, minimum, for each specific area that is being maintained. The equipment includes rough mowers, intermediate rough mowers, fairway mowers, riding bunker rakes and sprayers. This provides one backup piece while servicing and repairs are being done. This helps improve productivity and to get jobs done ahead of golfers. The two motorized equipment minimum rule is also useful in case there are breakdowns during tournaments.
Instead of trading in or selling equipment that normally would be replaced, superintendents will keep, depending on local conditions, the old equipment for other tasks. Old mowing equipment can be used after topdressing greens, collars, tees, fairways and approaches. Likewise, greens mowers can be used to mow tees, collars and approaches.
Five-year equipment replacement program
This program should be updated annually so capital and leasing forecasting and budgeting are thorough and complete.
There are two basic golf industry standards for equipment replacement: to allocate 10 to 15 percent minimum of the total replacement equipment inventory value each year, or approximately 15 or 25 percent of the annual maintenance operating budget. Leasing is more popular with facilities that require their frequently used equipment to be replaced more often, such as walk-behind and riding reel and rotary mowers for all of the maintained areas, turf vehicles, riding bunker rakes and sprayers. When the lease expires, the course has the option of turning the equipment in and acquiring new equipment, or with a one-dollar buyout where the course owns the equipment. The former is more popular because it makes the most sense to keep replacing equipment when it’s worn out and not cost effective to keep repairing it.
There is also an added side benefit to replacing leased or capital equipment, where more modern, state-of-the-art equipment technology is acquired. This replacement program also allows for additional new technology equipment to be acquired that is not being replaced – but added to the inventory so that additional improved agronomic and playing conditioning standards are achieved as dictated by golfer demands.
Leased equipment typically has a separate line item on the maintenance operating budget. And when this occurs, the total operating budget amount can be very deceiving, as it usually appears that this budget is much higher than normal because lease payments are included. Purchased equipment is placed on a separate capital expense budget.
The purchasing of longer-lasting equipment, such as tractors, loader/backhoes, skid-steer loaders and attachments, dump trucks, dump trailers, fairway aerifiers, and fairway topdressers with material handling systems, is more the rule than the exception for courses nationwide. The life expectancy on this equipment is usually longer, which makes purchasing more cost effective. An added side benefit is it is usually depreciated on the course’s financial statements because it is a capital expense.
Preventative maintenance, repairs and equipment modification
A solid equipment manager is paramount to not only keep maintenance equipment up and running, but for it to meet its life expectancy.
Maintenance equipment gets more sophisticated each year, with more and more diesel, hybrid and electric variants designed and built by multiple domestic and international manufacturers. The total amount of equipment in the inventory has rapidly expanded over recent years, mostly because of player demands for better conditioning standards. Because of the sophistication and larger amounts of equipment, many 18-hole courses employ two equipment technicians: the equipment manager, who performs repairs, sharpening and equipment modifications; and an assistant mechanic/technician, who performs routine preventative maintenance programs and lapping/sharpening. Only one equipment manager for 18 holes, in most cases, is too much work for an individual.
Maintenance equipment replacement chart
The chart on page 18 has a complete listing of everything an 18-hole golf course and practice areas require to be maintained. Since the equipment usage differs noticeably in different areas of the country, the chart highlights the three climatic zones: the cool-season, transition zone and warm-season climates. The range in years for each climatic zone is a good estimate and projection for when equipment typically should be replaced, especially before it becomes too costly to continue to repair. How long equipment will last is based on frequency of use, climatic conditions, employee’s care when operating the equipment, preventative maintenance programs, whether it’s stored inside or outside in the damaging sunlight and moisture, operating budget equipment maintenance line items, etc.
This chart is based on years when the equipment should normally be replaced instead of hour meter readings, because all maintenance equipment does not normally come equipped with them. Typically one hour equals about 60 miles on average on an automobile, meaning 3,000 hours equals approximately 180,000 auto miles equivalent. Newer equipment models are being installed with hour meters, especially on engines that do not have electric starters.
Typically motorized equipment costs more to maintain between the second and third year of the acquisition – or typically between 3,000-4,000 hours (180,000-240,000 miles equivalent). Monitoring the annual equipment repairs and maintenance costs for each piece of equipment provides insight on when it is more cost effective to replace instead of repair.
One final note: To be complete in keeping good, up-to-date efficient records, superintendents must take individual photographs/videos of each respective piece of maintenance equipment as proof that it was in inventory during an insurance company loss. Duplicate digital copies of each photo/video should be kept on a flash drive or CD Rom disc and stored in a safe place, such as in a fireproof file cabinet or even off site.
Terry Buchen, CGCS, MG, is president of Golf Agronomy International and regular GCI columnist.
Oscar Wilde once quipped, “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.” Not sure today’s golf course superintendent would agree, choosing, instead, to take advantage of the massive quantity of extremely useful data available to keep their courses in peak condition.
A great deal of that information is collected in, and dispensed from, the superintendent’s irrigation central control system. Tremendously helpful if the database is accurate and complete, but conversely disadvantageous if it is inaccurate and incomplete.
David Taylor, principal at Bryant Taylor Gordon Golf in Costa Mesa, Calif., says all of the central control systems available today are capable of incredible flexibility compared to their predecessors, which were essentially just timing mechanisms – some more complex than others. But taking full advantage of the system is often ignored.
“To get the most water savings from a control system, watering to ET is the most efficient method,” Taylor says. “ET – or evapotranspiration – is a measure of the water required to be applied to the turf that is lost to either transpiration through the plant stomata, or to evaporation from the soil. ET’s can be measured precisely using on-site weather stations and can be fairly accurately estimated by average temperature or from historical charts. Using ET information, the central computer can calculate exactly how long to run each sprinkler to put back all the water lost to transpiration and evaporation, but in order to do this, the database needs to be both accurate and complete.”
Accurate in terms of the spacing between sprinklers and in terms of the gallons per minute the sprinkler puts out. “This information is used to calculate how much water is being applied to the turf, and is known as the precipitation rate (PR),” he says.
According to Taylor, another major factor used to calculate the run time is the arc of the sprinkler. Is it a full-circle sprinkler or a part-circle sprinkler?
“The difference in arc makes a significant contribution to the run time,” he says. “A sprinkler set to 180 degrees, only needs to run half the time that a full circle sprinkler runs, and a sprinkler set to 90 degrees, only needs to run half as long as a sprinkler set to 180 degrees. Any portion of the database that is not complete or accurate leads to errors in the calculation of the required run time.”
Michael Kropf, superintendent at The Views Golf Club in Oro Valley, Ariz., has a Rain Bird Nimbus II Central Control System with an extensive database containing information for every head on the golf course. There’s a single-wire control on every head so each sprinkler has its own identity in the program and each head is designated to an area – a green, tee, fairway, or rough.
An accurate database is critical to the performance of the whole system, which was installed the year before he became superintendent, Kropf says. Together with his assistant and irrigation manager, they spent months coordinating what the database on the computer says with what was happening on the golf course.
“Heads were not wired correctly so the computer thought Station 1 was coming up when, in fact, Station 5 was coming up,” Kropf says. “We had issues where the computer thought a fairway head was running when a rough head was actually running. Even after we thought we found all the mistakes it still took months to find all the issues. Areas would always be wet and we would find a head that was thought to be running once a night was actually running twice in two programs.
“Accuracy is critical to keep the golf course in good condition and prevent overwatering,” he adds. “Our reclaimed water budget is over $400,000 a year so wasting water is not an option. That performance is also critical because we have to transition back to Bermudagrass every summer and overwatering leads to excess salts in the soil from the reclaimed that kills the Bermudagrass, leaving very poor playing conditions in June.”
While the initial database will include such items as sprinkler type, spacing, GPM and arc, the superintendent or irrigator may occasionally make changes to a sprinkler or its nozzle set to address local conditions.
“Maybe the spacing is compressed and the standard nozzle in the sprinkler ends up throwing water too far, so they put in a smaller nozzle that doesn’t throw as far ... or maybe the sprinkler is on a slope and is not throwing far enough, so they put in a larger nozzle,” Taylor says. “This will generally affect the GPM of the sprinkler. If this change is not noted, and the database is not updated to reflect the change, the computer will be making its calculations based on flawed data. The old adage ‘garbage in , garbage out’ applies here.
“Run times will not be calculated correctly and you will either end up with a dry area or a wet spot because the sprinkler run times are not correct,” he adds. “We recommend that the superintendent or the assigned irrigator audit the system at least once a year. In the audit, they need to confirm that the sprinkler nozzle is noted correctly in the database, that the sprinkler is rotating correctly, and for part-circle sprinklers, that the arc of the sprinkler is noted correctly, and that part-circle sprinklers are oriented correctly to water the turf and not houses, streets or sidewalks.”
For Kropf, communication is key.
“We have a good communication between irrigators and management,” he says. “If the irrigators find a problem they solved by changing a nozzle to a smaller throw to help dry an area out, or use a bigger nozzle to get a dry area, they communicate that change with me to keep the database in the computer accurate. The worst is when someone changes something, but the computer was never told and then more problems are created. We backup the database with Rain Bird GSP (Global Service Plan) on a regular basis to ensure our database is not compromised if the computer crashes.”
According to Taylor, most central control system databases have information for the sprinkler type, the nozzle set installed in the sprinkler, the base pressure of the sprinkler (which affects the GPM delivered from the sprinkler), the GPM of the sprinkler, the number of sprinklers on the station, the spacing between sprinklers and whether that spacing is square, equilateral triangular or something different.
“All of these factors are used to calculate the precipitation rate of the sprinkler and ultimately into the correct run time for the sprinkler,” he says. “Some systems will calculate a run time to the nearest minute, while others can calculate a run time down to the second. Most databases also have the ability to enter the electrical draw for the station, as well, so that the computer can optimize the number of sprinklers operating at any given time and stay within the electrical limits of the system wiring and field controller electronics.”
As for knowing the database is operating at peak accuracy, Taylor says there are several metrics that can be studied to see if the system is operating as intended. The simplest one is to drive the course and look for wet and dry spots.
“These are how most errors in the database manifest themselves,” he says. “Strictly from a measurement standpoint, (superintendents) can check the run log on the computer after an irrigation cycle to see how many gallons the computer says were applied during the irrigation cycle. This can be compared to the gallons reported by the pump station flow meter or by readings from the water meter if they don’t have a pump station. There will always be a difference between these two numbers since one is a theoretical value (the run-time log) and the other is a physical measurement of exactly what happened. As long as they are close, the database is probably in good condition. If the difference is significant or changes over time, then it is time to do a system audit to find where the errors are.” Frequently reviewing the database for adjustments should also be done, Taylor adds.
For superintendents running stand-alone systems – meaning they operate just from the field satellite and there is no central computer – most manufacturers have the ability to retrofit radios for communication so that the satellites can be run from a central computer with a database, Taylor says. These systems have to be proprietary, however, matching the manufacturer of the central system to the satellites. If the field satellites are two or three generations back from the current offerings, this is not necessarily the case and can be an expensive proposition.
Bottom line: Properly maintaining the irrigation database comes down to responsibility – conserving water and money.
“In today’s struggles with the availability of water, taking steps to conserve as much as you can is important, not only as being a good environmental steward, but directly affects the bottom line of the business, particularly in arid climates where water budgets can be in excess of $1 million per year,” Taylor says. “We should be well past the days where the superintendent sets everything to run for 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes and makes adjustments simply by a percentage increase or decrease from that run time.”
Water & Irrigation
Compensating for an increase in water costs could be partly to blame for annual budget hikes in regions such as the West and South. However, according to the research findings, irrigation and cost-of-water issues may not be as big of a concern or agronomic challenge as some may believe.
When examining the data, water budgets increased overall from nearly $16,500 in 2011 to $22,800 in 2015. While a regional breakdown wasn’t available for the 2011 data, superintendents at western courses anticipate spending nearly $83,000 on water in 2015, compared to $15,000 at southern courses, and less than $10,000 at courses in the Northeast and Midwest. However, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of all respondents indicated they weren’t very concerned about cost-of-water issues. Only superintendents in the West (55 percent) cited cost-of-water issues as a budgetary concern.
Additionally, the majority (40 percent) of superintendents responded that irrigation upgrades weren’t part of their spending plans for the next three years. And of those superintendents who planned some sort of irrigation upgrade (60 percent indicated they’d perform at least one improvement task during the next three years), the focus was on replacing nozzles (17 percent), software (16 percent), with the greatest frequency happening at western courses (24 percent and 25 percent, respectively).
During the last quarter of 2014, Golf Course Industry contracted with Readex to assist in the creation and to facilitate the distribution, completion and computation of the State of the Industry survey that examined superintendent trends and attitudes on a variety of topics.
GCI had 569 superintendents or superintendent-equivalent personnel of 18-hole facilities from around the U.S. complete the survey. As an added incentive to complete the questionnaire, GCI committed to making a substantial donation to the Wee One Foundation, a charity group started in memory of Wayne Otto, CGCS, that assists superintendents and other turf professionalism in need.
For the purpose of this report, data was broken down beyond "all" responses to include analysis by:
- Private vs. Non-private – Private course superintendents made up 43 percent of all respondents, while public course superintendents made up 57 percent. "Non-private" included public/daily fee (23 percent), semi-private (15 percent), resort (5 percent) and government/municipal courses (14 percent).
- Geographic region – Respondents were broken down by their location: Northeast (19 percent of total respondents); Midwest (33 percent of total respondents); South (31 percent of total respondents); and West (17 percent of total respondents. See the map for which state belongs to which region.
- Non-capital ops budget – Respondents were also categorized by how their 2015 non-capital operations budgets compared to the average ($697,000). This included "below the average" (58 percent of total respondents); "at average plus" (42 percent of total respondents) and "$1 million plus" (23 percent). It should be noted that “$1 million plus” was also represented in "at average plus."
Finally, when applicable, the 2015 data was compared against data from the 2012 State of the Industry report, which analyzed trend and attitude data compiled during the fourth quarter of 2011.
Superintendents are using more liquid fertilizers and biostimulant products as part of their turf maintenance program than they were three years ago, according to 2015 State of the Industry data. Superintendents out West (24 percent) are using more of this product than in any other areas of the U.S.
And with the ages-old debate between branded and generic products, superintendents report they are using slightly more branded products than they were three years ago (60 percent vs. 56 percent, respectively). Dialing down further, of those who use branded products, a third (33 percent) indicated these products make up 75 percent to 99 percent of their total product mix.
Utility vehicles will be the hot commodity among superintendent equipment purchases in 2015, according to the data. A third of respondents (33 percent) said utility vehicles were on their shopping lists. Broken down further, 43 percent of respondents at private courses, 51 percent at western courses and 55 percent at courses operating with budgets in excess of $1 million all indicated utility vehicles as their top purchases.
Regarding mowers, overall superintendents indicated more interest in acquiring greensmowers (24 percent) than fairway mowers (17 percent). Broken down further, greensmower purchasing was favored by respondents at private courses (26 percent), courses in the South (27 percent) and courses operating with budgets in excess of $1 million (35 percent).
Interestingly enough, when we asked about planned purchasing in 2011, 42 percent of superintendents indicated utility vehicles were on their agendas.
Labor and staffing is a management challenge, and finding skilled, reliable and dependable workers makes the hiring process a real chore for superintendents.
While the research points to a minor drop in staffing levels over the last three years for full-time and seasonal positions, more than half of superintendents across the spectrum (including course type and geographic regions) report some level of difficulty in hiring workers. For example, private facilities had slightly more difficulty hiring than non-private courses (63 percent vs. 60 percent, respectively), and 66 percent of respondents from the Northeast and South reported hiring challenges. Additionally, more than a third (39 percent) of respondents from the Northeast reported hiring troubles.
The problem also extends to attracting entry-level assistant superintendents, with nearly half (42 percent) of superintendent respondents citing difficulty, according to the data. Again, superintendents at private courses (48 percent) reported a much greater frequency of difficulty in hiring entry-level assistants than their colleagues at non-private facilities (36 percent). However, it should be noted that, according to the research findings, a greater percentage of respondents at private courses (92 percent) were or are in the market for entry-level assistants than those at non-private courses (68 percent). Regionally, nearly half (49 percent) of respondents from southern courses reported some level of difficulty.
A few months back, I explored whether more sprinklers actually use less, not more, water. I used the example of 65-foot spacing versus 80-foot spacing. A golf course architect acquaintance took issue in how I’d characterized the water savings and implied I made it sound like large spacings were bad and only small spacings were acceptable. His point was that small spacings with lots of sprinklers may be efficient, but efficiencies can be obtained with larger spacings for substantially less cost. As much as I do not want to inflate his ego, he had a point.
There’s nothing wrong with larger spacings on today’s courses. Modern sprinklers are better designed than sprinklers from as little as 10 years ago. Newer sprinklers apply water with much higher uniformities when properly spaced during installation. This higher uniformity results in the use of less water as the sprinklers don’t operate as long to cover up the weaker coverage areas. Just replacing old sprinklers with new sprinklers in the same location alone results in higher uniformities and less water use, no matter what the spacing is due to the uniformity improvements inherent in newer sprinklers.
Larger spacings of 75-85 feet are acceptable with higher uniformity sprinklers, but will still not apply water as efficiently as a smaller spacing because they are putting more water into the air to be subjected to evaporation and wind drift. The difference in efficiency, though, is much smaller than with sprinklers from the past. This argument, however, will not work with single-row fairway spacing as it is inefficient no matter what sprinkler is used or how it is spaced.
Many designers budget new irrigation systems on a per-sprinkler basis. The more sprinklers, the greater the cost. This number may vary slightly based on the quantity of sprinklers, but not much. However, it will vary based on a courses geographic location. Wage or union labor rates also influences the per-sprinkler number by as much as 30 percent. Using sprinkler numbers works well as more sprinklers equals more pipe, more wire, more swing joints and more control stations or decoders. It’s an effective way of providing preliminary budgets used by irrigation designers for decades. For example, a system may cost $1,300 per sprinkler. If there are 1,000 sprinklers, the cost would be $1.3 million; 800 sprinklers, $1.04 million; and 1,500 sprinklers, $1.95 million.
Sprinkler spacings for greens and tees is never part of the discussion as the spacing is dictated by their size and shape. Spacings get manipulated in fairways and rough. The fairway/rough spacing is based on how much coverage you want into the rough if you are not doing a wall-to-wall system. But even with wall-to-wall, an average spacing needs to be determined. Say you want to effectively irrigate a 60-yard width down your fairways. That will cover, depending on your fairway width, approximately 30-45 feet of rough on each side. To achieve the 180 feet of effective coverage, a double row would require a sprinkler spacing of 80 feet and a triple row a spacing of 60 feet. Remember, effective coverage is 60 percent of the sprinklers throw when there is no overlap. The double-row 80-foot sprinklers are going to use approximately 43.1 gpm and the triple-row 60-foot sprinklers 22.0 gpm. Precipitation rates are going to be 0.65 inches per hour and 0.59 inches per hour, respectively. So the time to irrigate will be close to the same. If an 18-hole course with double row has 282 fairway-rough sprinklers, the same course with triple row would have 422 sprinklers. At $1,500 per sprinkler, the cost difference would be about $210,000 using the outlined budgeting method. In the approximate 1,000 sprinkler system, the difference is between $1.3 and $1.5 million – or a 14 percent savings. It may not sound like much, but it could be the difference between project approval and being deemed unaffordable.
You can use larger spacings and achieve close to the same results in terms of water window, coverage, precipitation rate and water use with larger spacings that have high uniformities. An irrigation designer is best equipped to determine the best sprinkler spacing and count to fit into your available budget. Bottom line: Yes, sprinkler spacings matter.
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.