Water management decisions might be the most important agronomic choices we make as turfgrass managers. Too much or too little water in the soil can have a detrimental effect on the playing surface. Soil moisture content influences the playability of the course, the turfgrass disease susceptibility, the ability of turf to germinate and grow, soil compaction, and has a major influence on the turfgrass species that will thrive in a given environment. There is also a negative public perception that golf courses waste water. So we must do our part to defend our water usage. We must be wise stewards with our water resource, and that is why we feel the need to collect sound data and have thoughtful reasoning for each watering decision we make.
Since water usage is so fundamental to our success, it is imperative that we keep accurate records of water usage and moisture content for each season. We use spreadsheets for recording this data and creating irrigation water usage charts and greens moisture charts. It is one thing to have the numbers written in a spreadsheet, but it is way more useful to create charts with the information. They help us simplify it and make it much easier to read.
We recently upgraded our irrigation software to Toro Lynx. This program has helped ease the data collection process immensely. At the end of each season we run water usage reports and export the data into a spreadsheet which we use to create our usage charts. The water usage charts show us how much water we used each month and where it was applied on the golf course. It is very interesting to see and compare the water usage between seasons.
The charts can help make informed decisions and where we may be able to reduce water use. For example, if we decided to reduce our water usage by 10%, how would we do this? If we had no data on past seasons’ watering we would have no place to start. Would we want to water 10% less across all playing surfaces? This seems like it may be a little short sighted and unrealistic. Since greens, fairways and tees are our most important playing surfaces, could we maybe cut the 10% in other areas? If we were to cut 10% out of our total water usage and take it all out of the rough, what would we be left with? From our 2013 chart I see that 17% of our water used last season was in roughs, so if we take 10% of that away we are going to water our roughs less than half as much as in the past. This may or may not be acceptable. Since we have the numbers in front of us we can more easily make informed decisions. Water use is currently a very big topic, and for good reason, so it is extremely important to have access to this data in the event that water cutbacks were ever mandated.
We also track moisture on greens daily. Our greens are a patchwork of bentgrass and poa annua. For poa to perform optimally the moisture needs to be higher than for bentgrass to thrive. Balancing the two and finding the ideal moisture, taking in to account the weather conditions and daily play can be a tricky task. So to better aid in our decision making process we use moisture meters. Through the use of meters we obtain a quantifiable number which guides our watering decisions. Each day the cup changer also brings a soil moisture meter and checks each green in nine locations and writes down the average. This number is recorded and tallied on a spreadsheet so that we can track moisture. We look at these numbers and have conversations about moisture daily. How are the greens performing and where is the sweet spot for them? Are we having to hand water a lot in the afternoon? Is it so much that we are affecting golf play? If the greens started at a slightly higher moisture level in the morning would they make it through the day with less hand watering? Would this benefit them? These are all questions we ask. At the end of the season it can be very informative to look back and see the times when the greens moisture was up or down and compare their play quality at the same time. By recording the daily numbers and creating graphs we can put the data in an easy to read format which helps us make these decisions and also helps us defend those decisions afterward.
As grounds managers, we take pride in our ability to read the conditions and make decisions based on instinct and experience. That is important and it should not be minimized, however intelligent water management is so crucial to our success, we must make the most with the tools we have available to us. By creating water use charts we give ourselves one more tool we can use to make smart watering decisions.
This chart makes it easy to see where on the course we are using the most water and where we are using very little. We can also create this chart with gallons of water used labels.