Managing Expectations

Columns - Irrigation issues

March 11, 2019

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Unfortunately, when you improve or replace your irrigation system, the upper management of the golf course think everything on the course will immediately be better. This is especially true if you have been promoting the need for a new irrigation system in order to achieve better turf conditions for years and you finally got it. The truth, to anyone with turf knowledge, is that a new irrigation system, is not an immediate cure-all for every turf-related issue. As a result, it is important to manage people’s expectations early in the new irrigation system process.

Other than better turf conditions, you hear two big things about new irrigation systems from those in charge. One is that hand watering will be eliminated, and the players and members will no longer have to “put up with” (their words, not mine) staff hand watering greens while they are playing. The second is that staff can be eliminated because there will be substantial labor savings in not having to maintain an aging irrigation system or hand water. However, these are minor issues and can easily be handled through a simple discussion with the powers that be. Hand watering never entirely goes away and the labor will be “reallocated” to do other things around the golf course that were not getting done because of irrigation maintenance issues, not eliminated.

When a new irrigation system is installed, or a substantial upgrade is performed, everything about how the golf course is watered changes and it takes a while for staff to recognize and diagnose these changes. The majority of dry spots that existed before the new system are now hopefully gone, but there are new dry spot locations, although hopefully not a whole lot. The same can be said for the wet spots. Diagnosing wet and dry spots is not immediate as the dry spots will not show up until the weather is dry, which could be a year or more.

Today’s irrigation systems have a lot of sprinklers. In almost any system, more sprinklers than the system being replaced by as much as a factor of two or three times. These new sprinklers need to be adjusted correctly. Adjustments include proper arc adjustments for part-circle sprinklers and runtime adjustments for the individual sprinklers, because they are in new locations and have different precipitation rates. The central control database also needs to be completely filled out and that is not an easy or quick task. Staff has station adjustments to deal with and the flow management software to populate.

If the course changes irrigation equipment manufacturers, staff must learn how to adjust and troubleshoot the new sprinklers, and learn a completely different, sophisticated central control system. If the course changes technology from conventional field controllers to 2-wire, staff will need to learn a new troubleshooting procedure and the superintendent might be forced to learn an entirely new irrigation management regime. Training needs executed and new terms must be learned. If the course has a new pump station as part of the irrigation system replacement/upgrade, staff also has all new equipment to learn about. There are a lot of changes with a new irrigation system and the golf course maintenance staff cannot learn, adjust and manage all the new equipment overnight.

I know all this, and you know it, but how do you get your owner, board and members to understand there is a significant learning curve to the new irrigation system? They need to have patience. Let them know up front what they should expect and how long it will take you and your staff to “dial in the new system” for better turf conditions.

This month is my 94th column for GCI, just short of eight years’ worth and will be my last regular monthly column. Thank you for reading my opinions. And to those of you have taken the time to comment back to me on the various subject matters, thank you.

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.