In the coming years, many factors will influence golf course irrigation design, construction and operation. Irrigation consultant Michael J. Krones, Ph. D, outlines what the industry can expect to see over the next decade and beyond.

Irrigation consultant Michael J. Krones, Ph. D.
Irrigation consultant Michael J. Krones, Ph. D.

Advances in technology and agronomy will continue to result in changes in golf course irrigation design, construction, and operation. Irrigation water availability and climate change are the most critical driving factors behind these changes. The public’s interest in golf and its expectations for the appearance and playability of the course will also continue to have impacts on irrigation design.

Technological and agronomic advances will be adopted based on the function of golf course irrigation: promotion of a healthy and robust turf, accurate use of water, minimization of wasted water, optimization of energy consumption, and optimization of labor costs. In pursuit of these goals we will see better sprinklers, better sensors, and better control systems.

New turf cultivars combined with what architects and the public desire (and perhaps, can tolerate) may result in some changes in the amount and nature of the water used for irrigation. It may be possible to have successful golf courses located in areas that are now impractical from a climate perspective or where currently acceptable water volumes and quality prohibit such endeavors. These possibilities don’t necessarily influence the irrigation system – it’s likely that all of the turf will need some level of irrigation, either as the sole source of plant moisture or as a supplement to natural water. But such changes may result in less irrigated landscape and perhaps necessitate more accurate application of the water. That may mean more sprinklers per unit area of turf with more specific control features.

Technological advances are likely to be the most obvious and useful changes. While it is unlikely that we’ll see an alternative to the pop-up sprinkler as a means of applying the water, we can expect improvements resulting from materials and methods of sprinkler construction and system (or supervisory) control and data acquisition technology.

Sprinkler manufacturers will continue to improve sprinkler performance by introduction of new materials and flow paths for use in the nozzles and rotational drives. The science and practical application of frictionless coatings is advancing rapidly. Perhaps that technology will become cost effective for the sprinkler and valve manufacturers. The result will be better distribution uniformity and lower head loss which will result in some modest water and energy conservation.

We are all familiar with communication and control system advances simply because we all use computers, phones, tablets, and other interconnected devices. Therefore it makes sense to have great expectations for advances in irrigation control technology. Accurate use of water with minimal waste requires environmental and system sensing feeding into control algorithms that regulate water application and operation of the irrigation system. A dense, distributed array of sensors, perhaps a mesh network, that includes soil moisture and temperature sensors and system pressure and flow sensors can help apply the required water where it is needed, minimize the loss of water through over-irrigation, evaporation, wind drift, and leaks, and minimize pumping energy. Imagine regulating pump power not just as a function of the pressure at the discharge from the pump station but of the pressure at the sprinkler.

Michael J. Krones, Ph.D., is the president and principal designer at Hydro Designs Inc. in Frederick, Md., a consulting firm specializing in design, construction management, service, and programming of irrigation systems and water pumping systems. Krones is an engineering design consultant specializing in water-related fields including irrigation systems, pumping systems, water and wastewater transport and treatment systems, and the development and maintenance of synthetic and natural aquatic environments.

Post republished from the July 6, 2015 edition of Golf Course Industry.