The art of irrigation

It’s been great to experience the recent dry spell. Only 9mm of rain has fallen this June as opposed to 126mm last year. The courses are beginning to look and play like proper Links again. But when the weather is this dry, our thoughts turn to irrigation.

I thought I’d answer some FAQs about the irrigation on the courses here at the Home of Golf.

Why are the fairways turning brown?

During prolonged dry spells of weather, high spots on fairways and green surrounds start to brown off. At this point we need to consider irrigating to keep the turf alive. Because the finer grasses can survive dry spells, this is an opportunity to rid the turf of poorer species that have benefited from wetter summers so applying irrigation as soon as areas brown off isn’t always an immediate action.

irrigation 2

How do you know when to water?

We have various methods we use. As well as our experience and a visual check for dry areas, we use a moisture probe that is inserted into the ground and displays the percentage of moisture in the soil.

How much water do you apply per night?

Each course can take up to 500,000 litres per night. The amounts are based on experience and a percentage of how much water has been lost through the wind and sun over the previous 24 hours – this is known as transevaporation. We have a computer controlled fully automatic sprinkler system linked to weather stations which calculate this!
We can irrigate most areas except the roughs. Each course has its own unique computer that adjusts and prioritises where the water gets distributed.

Do you use this system every night?

No. The location and quantities of our watering varies greatly. Last year the full system was only switched on twice. Reducing water use is important to our sustainable approach in managing the Links and as already mentioned, can be a useful method to encourage the more desirable grass species.

How do you control the quantities of water?

Along with our input, the computer system works this out. Most of the sprinklers are individually controlled so we can be very precise. We even have the ability to log in from our home computers and adjust the irrigation from there if weather conditions change!

irrigation 3 - 4th Jub

How else do you reduce water use?

We apply products called wetting agents which allow any water applied to penetrate the soil more effectively. These are natural products which work by breaking the surface tension of the water droplets.
The sprinkler system is used to apply the minimum amount of water required to the lower lying areas. The higher, drier areas are topped up using hoses when required. Not doing this would run the risk of lower areas receiving too much water and becoming soft and lush as a result – this could then lead to disease and the rise weaker grass types.

Where does the water come from?

It is extracted from four boreholes 75m deep water that are within the site. The water is pumped from these to a storage reservoir beside the Jubilee sheds prior to distribution on the courses.

Is the water clean enough to use?

Yes, but it does have a high pH level which we reduce to a slightly acidic 6.4 to prevent disease problems that could occur if left untreated.

The greens can be very firm, can you not use the water to soften them?

We only water to keep the grass plant alive. Links golf has always been about the running game, so we try and promote this by careful applications of water.


Words by Graeme Taylor, Course Manager – New & Jubilee Courses

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