1 Automatic watering systems Do we need them?

dm-rrigationToro5-copy.jpgAutomatic watering systems Do we need them? ... and if we do, how should we use them?

Duncan McGilvray, Managing Director of Enviropro H20 offers some pointers

The early decisions on whether to have an Automatic Watering System (AWS) on golf courses were made in the mid to late 1960s and through the 1970s and there has been much debate regarding their use (or misuse) since that time. Today's prices for an average eighteen hole golf course can range from £75k to £1m depending on how far you want to go! The purpose of this article is to try to get over the point that you, the customer, are the one who makes the decision and to direct you to the right place to get sufficient information so that you can make an informed and unbiased decision.]

Ask yourself the following questions:

• Do I need an AWS?
• Is the AWS I have fit for purpose and, if not, do I want to improve the situation?
If you answered yes to either of the two questions read on.
Do you need an AWS?

I have lived with an AWS and I have lived without one - in both situations I have managed and both experiences have had their moments!
You will make your own decision but mine would always be to have an AWS and manage it efficiently, for the following reasons:
1. The grassplant requires supplementary water to survive in periods of dry weather and watering by hand during the day whether hose or sprinkler is disruptive, inefficient and, worst of all, wastes water.

2. An AWS is an extremely important tool, when working efficiently and being managed effectively, in achieving high standards in course or ground maintenance.

Is the AWS you have fit for purpose and, if not, do you want to improve the situation?
1. Although you will have personally experienced your system's shortcomings survey the system you have thoroughly and list all the problems encountered.
2. Make an appointment to sit down with 'the powers that be' and explain the situation - I am certain that if your system is not fit for purpose your membership will have noticed at some point and let you know about it! - you can use this in your negotiations. My remit here is not to give you advice on how to deal with those 'powers that be' but, if you do need assistance, speak to Pitchcare, the IOG, BIGGA, the GTC or Frank Newberry who will help in any way they can.

What to do if you say yes to either of the two questions

1. Sit down and list what you want from an improved system - (this can range from a simple replacement of a controller to a complete new 'all singing all dancing' system).dm-IrrigationToro3-copy.jpg

2. Have an expert survey carried out by someone you trust - if you do not know of anyone who can help speak to colleagues who have recently had either new systems installed or up-graded and find out what their experiences have been.

3. With the information you receive prepare, with your expert's help, a specification for the system that you require - this is very important as when you go out to tender the resultant quotations must be measured against the same specification - you cannot compare contractor quotations otherwise.
4. Form a working group (select appropriate officials and members) to help you to make the final decision on your preferred contractor (do not try to go it alone - seek and accept help - I do not have the space to list all of the benefits of involving others).

5. Follow this simple but important procedure:

• Select expert/consultant to assist your assessments and needs
• Research your legal obligations e.g. CDM/Health & Safety regs
• Select contractors - pick up references from previous work carried out
• Arrange site visits/surveys
• Receive proposals and quotations
• Source finance package to suit
• Meeting with individual contractors
• Final meeting with preferred contractor and place order
• Arrange pre-installation meeting and go through the programme of work
• Monitor the project
• Arrange completion meeting and agree after care

The above is the basic framework - there are obviously many sub-headings required to make sure the project runs smoothly.

An excellent reference guide and checklist to make sure you do not miss anything and avoid making mistakes is "The best course" a guide to selecting the best irrigation system for your needs available from Lely (UK) Ltd. email: irrigation.uk@lely.com

In my experience of having installed and up-graded three AWSs as a buyer in my career on golf courses I have found this approach invaluable (there is a real life story I can relate to back this very important point up, but space is limited - maybe next time).

I have mentioned the word 'manage' on occasion throughout this article and it is probably the most important point to make - an AWS must be managed effectively and efficiently - their misuse is the stuff of legend so, if you have one, or are considering installing or up-grading one, manage it in the right way and you will enjoy the freedom it brings instead of the misery it can cause.

Another important point to make - don't just settle for replacement equipment for what you have - take the next step in ensuring you know exactly how much water you are using - measuring in minutes and not millimetres/gallons/litres is not accurate at all and totally unacceptable by The Environment Agency as notification of water usage - love them or hate them - computers are the only way forward.

About the author: Duncan McGilvray is a former Greenkeeper and Course Manager who has been involved with membership associations and training, health and safety, course equipment sales, company restructuring and managing an irrigation company. Now on the 'dark side' Duncan can be contacted via email at: duncan.mcgilvray@enviroproh2o.com

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