Dryness and drought - how to deal with it the right way?

James Kimmingsin Irrigation

Many in the industry are feeling the effects of the hot and humid weather conditions at the moment. We sat down with Dale Housdon, Course Manager at Drayton Park Golf Club to discuss how he has dealt with the dryness over the past couple of weeks.

How important is a good irrigation system at times when the weather is dry for extended periods of time?

It is essential. An irrigation system shows its true colours during prolonged periods of dry/warm weather. Any defect, leak or electrical failure within the system will be evident when the heat hits. Certainly, when it comes to greens, moisture dictates the pace - so levels need to be monitored daily. Autumn/ Winter is the time to get audits completed and issues rectified so that your system is on point when required. During audits, adjustable items such as arcs, heights, angles, pressure and nozzle types are important to check and alter to suit.

If clubs cannot afford an expensive system, what would your advice be to cope with the dry weather?

Look after what you can in a priority fashion:

  1. Greens
  2. Tees
  3. Aprons
  4. Fairways
  5. Any other area

Also, if water is tight then I would avoid using the automated system where possible and output water out through hand hoses and a wetting gun - it is a far more efficient way of getting water to the target area (albeit a little more time-consuming). Using wetting agents would help maximise any water that you can get out on the course. Running your irrigation at the optimal time is also a useful tip; this is usually during the early hours when the wind is generally lower. The use of a bowser is common as a last resort for many and can also be useful in larger areas. Remember - no one likes to talk about water or irrigation when the ground is wet, so any discussions on irrigation upgrades with the powers at the top should be carried out during summer months.

What are the main challenges with the dry weather during the summer?

Keeping on top of moisture levels. The key is to not get behind and be proactive rather than reactive. With many data recording tools out there, you can keep a close eye on levels throughout the day and then top up accordingly. Another couple of areas which we find tough during dry summers are bunkers and fairways. Bunkers can become 'dusty' and very compacted and our fairways dry up quickly due to the soil makeup and their tree-lined nature. We have no irrigation in these areas, so we have to resort to running a few travelling sprinklers, but these have limitations during periods of high heat and wind. With the ever-changing climate, we have to keep an eye on the dreaded hosepipe ban. As a sports business, we are one of the last to be affected by these bans.

How do the challenges of dry weather compare to the wet in winter months?

As greenkeepers, we spend half the year praying for water and then the other half of the year trying to move water away. We are obsessed with the weather! I'd prefer to want the rain rather than trying to move it on. The heat does also have a personal impact on the team as it can take it out of the lads, so breaks have to be longer and more frequent to avoid burnout. Another difference is course set-up. A golf course plays completely differently from dry to wet. Therefore, the course set-up has to be a priority to ensure a fair game.

How has your course managed the dry conditions?

We have managed it well. Like most, we would ve grateful for more automated water in a few more places yet, where we do have irrigation, the surfaces are in good health with no sign of issues. A proactive programme of wetting agents and soil surfactants, alongside a prompt aeration schedule, has been crucial when managing our moisture levels. We like to monitor what water goes out there at night, so periodically I run a cycle through the early morning and chase it around to ensure we are as efficient as possible. Once a month I also lay out gauges on the greens to capture what water is going out to ensure that the programmed system is behaving as it says it is. We set our Toro Lynx system to irrigate in mm (rather than in minutes) which is far more relatable to rainfall figures.

Do you have to adapt any methods in order to cope with the dry greens and fairways?

Yes. Cutting heights and frequencies are modified throughout to suit weather and turf conditions. Rolling becomes more frequent and hand mowers are out and about a little more to give the triple mowers a rest.

When mowers are not in use, all hands are to the hoses to get as much water as we can out to the areas that need it, thus keeping the overnight automated water to an absolute minimum. Someone once told me: "If you're not hand watering, you are over-watering". That can be true at times. This means some of the water going out is missing the target areas.

Would you say that working in the turf industry is the only job where people sometimes pray for it to rain?

You can have the best system in the world, yet nothing beats rainfall. Rain has plenty of major nutrients and ions within - plus the obvious side benefits of clearing the air, taking dust away from cart paths and getting to the areas that the best irrigation cannot. You'll note that leading up to a tournament many a course manager will pray for a decent drop of rain. It just gives the course a new, fresher outlook and a well-deserved rest from the automated system.

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