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Experts’ Insights: Spring irrigation 101

By |  May 18, 2021 0 Comments
Irrigation system on golf course (Photo: Hunter Industries)

Checking an irrigation system in springtime helps ensure the system is working properly and efficiently the entire season. (Photo: Hunter Industries)

A key to restarting an irrigation system, according to Brent Harvey, principal of Brent Harvey Consulting in San Diego, Calif., is to physically visit and turn on every sprinkler head.

“Compare every sprinkler to the map, make sure that it’s functioning correctly, that the arc is adjusted properly and that it’s clear of debris and it opens and closes correctly,” says Harvey, who specializes in the Southwest region. “When guys don’t have the labor or don’t have the time and don’t do it, it really shows.”

Harvey adds that superintendents should compare the characteristics of each sprinkler with the control system database at the central control computer and check that mainline gate valves and lateral isolation valves are all working properly.

“The databases are supposed to be making automatic daily adjustments to evapotranspiration rates, but if the data in the database isn’t perfect, then you’re not irrigating your golf course properly,” he says.

Spring is also a great time to update the map because, according to Harvey, a golf course is alive and changing every day.

“If you don’t maintain the accuracy of your as-builts or construction record drawings, then those drawings become obsolete,” he says. “The longer you wait between updating those, the worse they get.”

Harvey says it’s best to perform this work before the summer season hits because the turf stresses quickly where it’s hot. Overall, Harvey says putting in the work to ensure the system is working properly is well worth it in the end.

“You need to maximize the efficiency or the distribution uniformity because that means you’re putting water down evenly, which means you’re able to maintain the golf course at the moisture level that you want,” Harvey says. “It’s also true that if you’re putting down water evenly, then you can have a more uniform turf condition, which means your members are happier.”

Jim Spindler (Photo courtesy of Ecologel)

Jim Spindler (Photo courtesy of Ecologel)

Ecologel Solutions

Jim Spindler, CPAg, CCA CSS
Director of agronomy

Perform an irrigation water suitability test and a soil test to check for water chemistry issues that can affect water penetration, moisture availability and plant health. The presence of high sodium or bicarbonates can break down soil structure, sealing it off and preventing water infiltration. When sodium salt is present, the use of a highly soluble calcium source can remedy buildup and improve soil structure for better water and nutrient movement. For bicarbonate issues, use an acid-forming product to break down bicarbonates. To maximize water efficiency, apply a hygroscopic humectant chemistry. Hygroscopic humectants attract soil moisture vapor and condense it into plant usable water droplets. This is used to mitigate drought stress for seasonally dry areas, reduce overall watering and hand-watering requirements and mask inefficiencies in irrigation coverage.

Carl Eberts (Photo courtesy of Hunter Industries)

Carl Eberts (Photo courtesy of Hunter Industries)

Hunter Industries

Carl Eberts
Product marketing manager – golf

First, check the strength of electrical connections to each rotor and investigate any poor signal situations to prevent communication issues. It’s best to do this a few weeks in advance of when you need to start irrigating in case you need to repair anything. Then, before pressurizing the system, make sure all rotors are level and flush with the playing surface to maximize efficiency and distribution uniformity. When you’re ready to turn the system back on, it’s important to start pressurizing it as slowly as possible and make sure you adequately evacuate air in the lines to avoid damaging your pipes and rotors. Once you’re up and running again, conducting a distribution uniformity audit is a great way to ensure your system is performing at its best.

Photo: Greg Rounds

Photo: Greg Rounds

Rain Bird Golf Division

Greg Rounds, Class A Superintendent
Midwest district sales manager

Have a plan. Start as early as weather permits and take notes on your startup process each spring. Note adjustments. Be patient filling the pipes; I was always taught to fill at a rate of less than 150 GPM. For those without the Rain Bird Smart Pump, turn the pumps OFF before you leave work for the day during the first few days after initial startup. Pipe breaks often happen over winter due to subsurface heaving. Sometimes it takes a few days for overwintering issues to surface. Always better to have happen when on site. Take a methodical approach to evaluating your rotors one at a time. Make sure your rotors are putting down water where they’re supposed to. It can be difficult to focus on one thing at a time when opening the golf course, but remember that you’re setting up your #1 tool for conditioning the golf course for the remainder of the season. Do it early and do it right.

Jim Wright (Photo courtesy of Toro)

Jim Wright (Photo courtesy of Toro)


Jim Wright
Sr. marketing manager

Winterizing the system in the fall, then developing and implementing a comprehensive spring startup plan, will ensure that springtime irrigation system startup is successful and seamless every time. With spring well underway, golf course managers should have already completed those startup plans. It isn’t time to relax though; after startup, crews should be inspecting the irrigation system while it operates under normal conditions so they can identify when the system is stressed during the growing season. Golf course managers should also be revisiting each zone and noting any turf stress. The sprinklers in each zone should be assessed from head to nozzle, ensuring the components match and replacing any worn parts. The pressure at each nozzle should also be evaluated and any necessary adjustments made to rectify excessive or inadequate pressure. Crews should inspect, detect and correct sprinklers throughout the spring to create excellent springtime conditions while getting a jumpstart on the upcoming summer stress.

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