Scorched, brown fairways were a scene we were all too familiar with during the summer of 2022 as much of the UK found itself in drought conditions following the driest summer for more than forty years. Many water companies implemented hosepipe bans but golf courses were exempt, and with this came calls for social responsibility in terms of how they irrigated.
Cost and time effective irrigation from Toro Lynx central control system and sprinklers at Cruden Bay
And as we head into winter, weather scientists have confirmed that we will see, for the third time, a rare meteorological event in the tropical Pacific with the 'El Nina'. The effects of which could mean a dry, cold winter for Britain and stretch the drought emergency into next summer.
As we all know, a dry winter after a dry summer means water reserves could be in serious trouble, but it's not all doom and gloom. Companies like Toro have been hard at work investing in technology to ensure responsible irrigation options are available.
Here, Robert Jackson from Reesink Hydro-Scapes, the sole Toro distributor in the UK for irrigation products, considers how a warming climate with extreme weather spells means we find ourselves heading into unchartered territory when it comes to water reserves and usage, and how golf clubs can reclaim control of their water supply and irrigate responsibly.
The Met Office climate projections for the UK indicate significant temperature rises in the decade ahead for both winter and summer, with the greatest increases in the already warmer South. We know from experience that clubs in Kent now face weather conditions similar to the South of France and the extreme weather could become more frequent and intense. Not every summer will be hotter than the last, but temperature records are expected to be regularly broken, while heatwaves are likely to be longer and happen more often.
Left: Adjusting Toro's B Series with Turf Cup for the most precise coverage is easy
Predicted future changes to the UK's climate:
- A decrease in total precipitation during spring, winter and autumn
- More extreme heavy rainfall events in summer
- An average temperature increase throughout the year
- Greater and more frequent summer droughts with extreme temperatures
- More frequent winter storms with greater intensity which cause
Source: Met Office
What's the impact?
There are two significant problems with the way golf clubs irrigate for long-term sustainability with the changing climate. The first is excessive dependence on potable (mains) water (the water industry puts this at around 66 percent of UK clubs) and the second is that so many irrigation systems are old.
Ten years ago, it used to be part of the brief when doing a spec for a new irrigation system - focus on the greens and tees, leave the fairways because the weather will cover it - that isn't the case anymore, the fairways are burning off and dying. Clubs need to irrigate more area and that means they must have a sensible, sustainable irrigation source.
Water companies are having to make tough strategic decisions on how they distribute limited supplies, and if it's perceived that the golf industry is not voluntarily attempting to reduce its reliance on unsustainable sources of water, tougher penalties for not becoming more self-sufficient could be applied.
Sutton United FC irrigates with an SRC Ranger control system, 16 value in head Toro Infinity sprinklers
Long-term supply of water
The impacts of climate change, increased user expectations and historically short-term management practices have resulted in golf course water demands generally increasing, without too much planning over the source. This has to change.
There's no need to use high quality potable water for irrigation; a club's heavy dependence on potable water means they don't have control and supply cannot be guaranteed, especially when water companies and the Environment Agency are struggling to access and process sufficient supply for domestic use, but what are the alternatives?
Ideally, you'd have the set-up of winter abstraction and a borehole in the summer*. But, for that you need a licence from the Environmental Agency, and they are coming under greater pressure from users which may result in stricter licence allocations in certain areas. There's also the option of using recycled grey water. This can reduce annual water use by 90 percent simply by setting up rainwater harvesting and the treatment of used water from the clubhouse. This is a practice widely used in European countries such as Spain, but only about three to four clubs in the UK currently adopt this practice.
Futureproofing yourself against climate change and stricter water use legislation means acting now. Failure to do so could place many at serious risk of significant surface quality decline in the next decade.
So how do you do that? It's all down to your irrigation system...
The Environmental Agency is going to want to see you being sensible with your irrigation and know you're doing the right thing with the resource - and understandably so when you consider the loss of water there is through old infrastructure and incorrect practices using the system and the sprinklers. Those being vigilant now, having taken the time to understand their system (whatever its age) deserve recognition - it's this mindset that will set them in good stead for the future and its challenges. For those who are playing catch up, we've got you covered.
The R&A GC2030 Water Security project recently found the vast majority of course irrigation is at least ten years old: 83 percent of main pipelines, 64 percent of storage tanks and the same figure again for the sprinkler heads. While this isn't necessarily a problem, it does need monitoring. The completion of a new system installation is not the end, far from it, it's just the beginning - it's a project, it needs understanding and love to work optimally, and that is even more important with an older system of course.
Monitoring should include:
- Detailed understanding and mapping of site and available water resources. Monitoring incoming water supply, distribution network, weather data and soil moisture levels. Analyse water usage throughout the year and use finding to highlight areas where water quantity and applications can be improved.
- Current water usage and source. Irrigation should be applied according to soil moisture values, ambient weather conditions and forecasts rather than just regular irrigation windows.
- Detailed information of irrigation system. It takes detailed work, but existing irrigation systems can be optimised to gain efficiencies. Components can be tweaked to optimise irrigation cycles and each sprinkler head needs checking. The distribution and direction of water are key - quite often non-essential areas such as pathways and roughs are being irrigated simply because of the positioning and radius of the sprinkler head and nozzles.
I recommend golf course managers check out the STRI's interactive online portal that presents the latest climate change predictions from the IPCC (International Panel for Climate Change) and The Met Office. This can be used to see forecasts for specific areas for every season until 2080. Information is king and with the metrics of maximum and minimum temperature and precipitations to hand, the best - and worst-case scenarios can be identified and help with planning for the future.
Responsible irrigation is an emotive subject. Irrigation technology is constantly evolving and is much more efficient. Upgrades to specific items such as pump sets, controller software and pipework and irrigation heads/nozzles can and should take place throughout the lifespan of a system. However, sometimes a full upgrade of the whole system is needed to realise large scale water savings.
The developments that have impacted golf course professionals the most are:
- Thermal mapping and detection analytics to improve turf health with less water, and reduced fertiliser and pesticide use.
- Central control systems like Lynx which provides access to real-time course information, precision control options, and convenience through mobile connectivity to better manage turf health and water resources.
- The new PrecisionSense technology which measures the variability of key site attributes - including soil moisture, salinity, compaction and plant performance - to help customers improve water and resource efficiency, and produce healthy, more uniform turf.
- Toro's Turf Guard wireless soil monitoring system to measure and report soil moisture, temperature and salinity. The real-time data helps customers make more informed decisions on when and how much to water, ensuring healthier turf without over or under watering.
- Sprinkler precision such as with the Infinity series to allow for maximum distribution uniformity and adjustability to alter coverage seasonally, meet water reduction mandates and for separate irrigating between turf areas. There's even the option of sprinklers which are perfect for bunker surrounds without wasting water throwing into the bunkers and with rotation to slowly apply water where runoff is a concern.
- Internal retrofit kits designed to immediately upgrade and update older and other branded sprinklers to Toro's most advanced technology for the ultimate precision.
Robert Jackson - Reesink Hydro-Scapes
Toro tech highlights:
- 1mm water control
- sprinkler heads that save up to 35 percent water
- 100 percent pinpoint accuracy, for 0 percent wastage
- 24 nozzle positions
- 1 degree increment arc adjustments
When you combine this with the efforts, intel and experience distributor Reesink Hydro-Scapes has to offer to help clubs understand where they can massively improve efficiencies, improve their existing infrastructure, reduce water use, and manage reservoirs and boreholes better, you realise it's possible to not only safeguard your club but also to make a significant difference to the country's resources.
*Boreholes can provide significant quantities of water, however anything more than 20m³ a day requires a specific licence from the Environmental Agency. Licences may have weekly or seasonal limits. Storage is often required to store winter abstraction for summer use.