Irrigation from a new perspective

Columns - Irrigation Issues

March 2, 2018

Many of us have gone to what is now called the Golf Industry Show for years or several decades. I ran into Pat Jones at the show this year and he asked me how many years I had attended. I did not know, but my best guess was between 25 and 30 years, which makes me a newcomer compared to many of you. I have gone to the show each year for different reasons and those reasons may change from year to year, but two reasons for me to always attend are to network and see new irrigation technologies. Sometimes it is to deal with clients, get a break, and/or to teach or speak. It’s always interesting to talk with superintendents about their irrigation systems and what they are doing to keep them operating, make them better or easier to maintain.

At this year’s show, I met Jayson Gajewski, a relatively new assistant golf course superintendent at La Gorce Country Club in North Miami Beach, Fla. I have some history with La Gorce, so we struck up a conversation about how their new irrigation system was operating.

Jason has a mechanical engineering degree, so he is armed with considerable technical expertise. One of the topics we discussed was his use of a drone to maintain the irrigation system. As we know, drones are becoming a big deal in everyday life. Ironically, Toro announced at the show their strategic investment, exclusive in the golf industry, with Boston-based GreenSight Agronomics, which supplies agronomic data based on automated drones, patented sensors and proprietary analytics.

I have seen GreenSight presentations at conferences over the last several years. Their drones map soil moisture, pest stress and nutrient deficiencies. Drone technology has been used in agriculture for many years. It is estimated that 30 percent of U.S. farms are using some type of drone data.

The number isn’t as high in turf, but if a major manufacturer of golf and irrigation equipment is exploring drone technology, there must be something to it. I anticipate an increase in the technology’s golf applications.

But back to Jayson. At La Gorce, Jayson uses his drone to fly over the course to look for irrigation issues he would only see if he drove around to all the sprinklers or may not notice at all. Leaks and coverage issues are easily identified from above, but he also uses it to identify sprinklers that have bad seals.

If you fly over the irrigation system while the system was operating, you could identify sprinklers that do not turn, operate or pop up and down, too. Jayson is excited about the potential as he gets more familiar with the golf course and the drone.

Toro’s interest in the drone technology is to integrate with their Lynx central control software. They see it as a tool to provide feedback to the golf course management staff that can save water. Not only are its moisture sensing mapping capabilities accurate, but they also show the precise location of wet and dry spots. It will also indicate what sprinklers, or lack thereof, water the wet or dry spots of concern.

As Amazon has pointed out, expect to see more and more applications for drones in our everyday personal and work life. There will most likely be multiple uses for drones on golf courses in the future. I wonder how long it will be before we hear of one being knocked down by a golfer’s drive?

Brian Vinchesi, the 2015 Irrigation Association Industry Achievement Award winner, is President of Irrigation Consulting, Inc., a golf course irrigation design and consulting firm with offices in Pepperell, Massachusetts and Huntersville, North Carolina that designs golf course irrigation systems throughout the world. He can be reached at or 978-433-8972 or followed on twitter @bvinchesi.