South Florida courses share their strategies for managing the surplus from unexpected rainfalls with parched, drought-like conditions.
In late May and early June of 2011, a drought was perceived as never-ending for many Florida residents. Lakes lowered from the dyer heat, and country clubs relied heavily on its sprinklers to keep the fairways, rough and pins at a sharp, contrast green.
“Our droughty period is usually from December through May and going through June a bit, which is typically the worst,” said Steven Wright, Golf Course and Landscape Operations director at the Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton. “We don’t really have droughts in the summer.”
Today, the weather climate is the polar opposite of last year. Lakes rise to an above-average level; golf courses in Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Miami and Jupiter have had an unusual amount of water drop their way as a result of excessive rainfalls. According to weather reports, South Florida hasn’t seen this much rain—at this time of year—in over 10 years.
As rainstorms swoop in the region, many superintendents have great or bittersweet experiences with a surplus of water.
Wright says there has been no damage to his course, only minor adjustments like putting the bunkers and pins back together and a little extra mowing to clean up a bit. Boca West has 72 holes here, and 600 acres of lakes all interconnected.
“Now, what we’ve had here in Boca Raton, compared to Miami, they’ve had two times more water as we’ve had here. Those guys have a lot more rain. We’ve already hit 50 percent of our annual rainfall before June.”
As far as water management is concerned, he makes sure the sprinklers are off and his staff is on the same page. Occasionally, they’ll have algae growing on the greens, but there will always be little algae because that’s just the way of the environment, which is nothing they can’t take care of.
Boca West has been around for 40-plus years, but the majority of the golf courses have been renovated and drainage has improved. He says the drains work slowly, but they’re able to manage the water levels with the drainage, which is why the newer, more modern course survive longer than the older ones.
“Water management is the key,” Wright says. “If you’re on top of it with all the technology like radars, forecasting tools, satellite images, you can’t predict when the rain will fall, but you can certainly set the time to prepare with the forecasts. Our computers have an irrigation system and I got to tell you, we throw all that out when it’s raining, we just turn it off. We’ve had a lot of rain, so we run our network 35 to 40 percent of our normal water use so far this year. They have a good determination based on how much. The other computers just have you sitting around looking at radar and the weather prediction is really good when it comes to that. There are a lot of guys who turn the irrigation systems on to see if they’re still working.”
The rain is nothing that takes him by surprise. It’s impacting his pro shops, revenue and turf. The only shock is the storms came a little early in the year. Normally, this is a September/October function.
Excess moister does take Wright’s course out of the weeds and mowing program. Weeds tend to get a head start if they can’t spray them. If they don’t get a few steps ahead, weeds tend to get a bit out of control. Generally, the lower-cut areas—T-tops, fairways, greens—they’ll all be adjusted and they might not be able to mow for a day or two. Wright stresses if any of these situations apply, adjusting the cut-ups are the way to go.
“If people aren’t making those kinds of adjustments, then they could cause extra stress on the course. Burmuda grass is a very active and healthy plant though, it won’t drown or anything like that,” he says.
Dan Elchert, director of golf course operation at Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton, says his course, gathered almost 9 inches of rain in May, and pushing 3 or 4 more inches in the month of June so far. From Jan. 1, to now, he says the club totaled to about 30 inches of rain.
“I haven’t experienced any damage due to the rain,” Elchert said.
Since October and November of last year, the lake levels in Elchert’s opinion have been very vibrant. In the last 10 years he’s been working at Woodfield, lake levels were higher than he’s ever seen. Last year, oddly enough, it was as low as he's ever seen.
“You know, the landscaping director, who has been here for almost 20 years, has never seen them that low last year,” Elchert said. “It’s the exact, extreme opposite. It was as low and dry as I’ve ever seen. It seems like for the most part—with the rain and the warmer temperatures—I’ve really noticed it in early May. It looks like we are a good month or two ahead of where we typically are in terms of turf quality and all everything else because the winter was so warm and we had some rain.”
Drainage on the course is very consistent. The only time Elchert would get extremely concerned about rainfall is no sun, but the rain has seen a few sun showers these past few weeks to balance and control the irrigation.
“Our irrigation consumption is considerably less this time of year,” Elchert said. “I spoke with a gentleman last week and he was telling me that a course in Miami hasn’t irrigated for about 30 days because of the consistent rainfall, which is more than we did, but our consumption has been very low so far.”
In the past two to three months, Woodfield has relied very little on irrigation, saving them thousands of dollars and the biggest dilemmas they’ve had to deal with are mowing schedules.
“I have a weather app on my phone, and as long as I watch the weather, I’ll be able to make decisions on various types of applications, as well as our mowing schedules in terms of normal maintenance,” Elchert says.
Glenn Landgraff, superintendent at the Ocean Breeze Golf & Country Club, says the consistent downpours just drain to really low areas of his course, but fine nonetheless.
“If it’s built properly, you have drainage, surface drainage and a couple holes that are mucky,” Landgraff says.
After a big storm, Landgraff aerates to move water. He controls the intake and outtake of the amount of water if it’s too high, so he’s able to reverse the flow into the canal.
“Unfortunately, I have three areas, a North, East and a South,” Landgraff says. “There’s been a few days where I had to close the North course because of too much rain, it was just under water. We probably had around 7 inches of water on the North, so we had to close it down and play the other two. Within an hour or so, the water will have drained out.”
Just like Elchert, the sun is an essential asset to add after a rainstorm. It’s the most important benefit a course has because the most expensive product is the green. When there’s just water and no sun, Landgraff says they get algae on the course by virtue of no air flow movement. The more the ground is saturated the more oxygen is plentiful through the roots.
“This amount of rain we just didn’t expect,” he says. “From a business standpoint, we project a certain amount of revenues on the golf course and you always put a certain percent of rainy days and dry days, so, we had 15 rainy days, so we should’ve had $400,000 of revenue, which threw a curve ball at us. You get rain when you don’t expect it, so you just try to keep up.”
When he skips the use of pumps and sprinklers, they save over $2000 a month. Anytime they save money is when he can be a bit satisfied. He says he’d rather have a quarter inch of rain than a quarter inch with the sprinklers.
“Everything is dictated by play, and what the weather’s doing. Anything we do, like cultural practices, or just basic mowing schedules, we’re constantly monitoring the weather. The summer rains are going to throw your schedules off, but you have to keep it all in control and proactive,” says Elchert.
About the author
Seth Cohen is a Florida-based freelance writer and a GCI contributor.