Need a little patience

Columns - Irrigation Issues

September 10, 2018

Almost all golf courses have an irrigation system. Sometimes we forget that a golf course irrigation system is a mechanical system that happens to be buried in the ground. The ground is a harsh, dirty, wet environment with various critters crawling around or digging in it, various other items driving or walking on it and equipment poking at it. Is there any wonder that, at times, it doesn’t work? Even with this corrosive environment, we still lose patience with the course’s irrigation system when it malfunctions. Think of burying your refrigerator, furnace, or air conditioner in the ground and relying on it to work day after day without problems.

An irrigation system is going to cause a golf course superintendent more heartache over time than when they are new, if the installation was good. Problems are certainly minimized by good mechanical design, great installation and the right products – but not necessarily in that order.

You can have the design you want, but if it is improperly installed, it’s not going to operate without issues. For example, you can buy a gate valve that will last 25 years or an inexpensive one that breaks or leaks the first time you use it. Or, you can invest in grounding up front or fix the system every time you get a lightning strike. Although good design, products and installation help it still comes down to onsite maintenance.

Not unlike other mechanical systems in your house, most golf course irrigation maintenance is reactive not proactive. As such, you may not have the parts in stock, nor may the distributor.

On large irrigation systems, it is good to have an irrigation technician. They can certainly be kept busy doing preventive maintenance on the irrigation system when they are not reacting to a leak here or a malfunctioning sprinkler there.”

The labor needed may not be available immediately for repairs or, in some cases, you may not have the dollars needed readily obtainable if it is something major. Certainly, one part of proactive irrigation maintenance is to have the parts you need on site.

These days suppliers keep very small inventories, so you cannot assume that they will have the necessary part or parts if you do not. It is important to keep an inventory of the parts that are commonly giving you issues whether it be solenoids, drives, gate valves or repair couplings. On large golf course irrigation systems, it is good to have a dedicated irrigation technician. They can certainly be kept busy doing preventive maintenance on the irrigation system when they are not reacting to a leak here or a malfunctioning sprinkler there.

The other thing about reactive maintenance is that you are always in a hurry to fix something as the timing is never good and the turf doesn’t have the patience to wait before it starts to deteriorate. Because you are in a hurry, rarely does another worker on your team take the time to determine what caused the issue.

Consider the possible culprits: Was it something driving over it? Was it surge pressure, was it a bad splice? Was it poor grounding? Was it a previously incorrect repair or a bad installation?

If you do not know the cause, it will be difficult to execute a repair that will last. Try and diagnose the cause and make a proper repair that keeps it from happening again.

An irrigation system is going to require a great deal of maintenance over time. The type of repairs needed can vary on a day-to-day basis or on older systems might be the same issues day after day. There is nothing you can do about many of the problems because they are inherent in the systems installation, design or products, and as anyone who has been in this business longer than a month knows, it is also all weather dependent.

We have no control over the weather and irrigation systems hate lightning, extended dry periods and intensive rain events. As someone once said: “Patience is a virtue,” and I will add, “… especially when the irrigation system is malfunctioning.”

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.