Water conservation at The Rim Golf Club

The golf club details its water conservation practices in light of water restrictions.

Justin C. Ruiz, CGCS, superintendent
The Rim Golf Club, Payson, Ariz.
Published date: January 2010

The Rim Golf ClubThe Rim Golf Club is located in a small town nestled in the mountains among the Ponderosa Pines of Arizona. The exclusive club was the final collaboration between Tom Wieskopf and Jay Morrish.

It yields 64 acres of irrigated turf and 35 acres of native areas. The elevation changes throughout the property make irrigation management the No. 1 priority.

Our climate is labeled as semi-arid transitional. The Town of Payson and surrounding towns have been under severe water restrictions for many years.

Days of the week are assigned for outdoor watering, and homeowners are not allowed to plant grass in their yards. Although the town’s population has increased its water usage has not. That’s because the town is working diligently to conserve water.

Water distribution

The Rim Golf ClubStorage lakes are shared with our neighboring course, Chaparral Pines. Mayfield Canyon, a sanitary district and a small groundwater well field consisting of four wells, delivers water to the town.

The sanitary district provides water to the town’s lake at the park, the public golf course, a retirement community, the school fields, and our storage lakes. Its delivery system is computer controlled. Volume delivered is based upon a priority list. We were the last development on the list so we receive water once all other entities are full.

Mayfield Canyon is our other source of irrigation water. It makes up for about 30% of our total irrigation needs between the two properties. It is nearly impossible to get water to our course from Mayfield Canyon.

Water is mainly delivered to Chaparral Pines’ lakes to offset the usage from our main storage lakes. These wells are under scrutiny because of their location and the surrounding area’s drought conditions.

Since its beginning, water issues have plagued the club. Communication is very important as it keeps members up-to-date on our water supply and conditions.

Water conservation BMPs

The Rim Golf ClubTo lay the ground work for our water issues, I created a best management practice (BMP) program. Various approaches were used to reduced water usage and become a more sustainable golf course.

Our irrigation water was managed the same way we managed our budget. When necessary, costs were cut to make sure we used more than we had.

We set a goal to eliminate severe water issues at our course. We started with basic irrigation fundamentals:

  • Field equipment adjustments
  • Central control programming
  • Run time adjustments
  • Turfgrass reduction

We went through the golf course and adjusted all the perimeter heads to irrigate only turfgrass. It was set up to avoid as much overspray as possible into the native areas.

If a head is out of adjustment and spends 30 seconds of that rotation watering an area that does not need to be irrigated, you waste about 60 gallons per head per night. Our course has 2,000 operational heads with more than half being adjustable arc heads. Nearly 300 heads were adjusted during our first season.

Next, we tackled our bunker irrigation system. Supplemental irrigation was programmed into the central control and through the satellite controllers.

This small programming change increased course presentation and reduced water usage. Now supplemental irrigation could be managed using evapotranspiration. Field adjustments made irrigating more efficient, but we were still over budget in terms of our water usage.

Technology meets field work

The Rim Golf Club Upon further investigation, we discovered that our water management database did not match the equipment in the field. The database is the brain of the central control system. If it doesn’t have the proper information then improper application is imminent.

Over the next few weeks, we rewrote the database to match the equipment, nozzle, and spacing in the field. These adjustments corrected our estimated water use and matched the water use recorded by the pump station.

The accuracy gave us the flexibility to manage our water usage more precisely. It also gave us the ability to properly reduce water usage with more accurate knowledge.

Improving playing conditions

The Rim Golf ClubThe computer was running accurately, but we were not satisfied with the consistency of the golf course’s playing conditions. Fairways, tees, and approaches were not consistent throughout the property.

Frustrated with the inconsistencies we returned to the central control system to investigate the field adjustments. We were astonished at what we found.

The field adjustments were way out of balance. Rough heads that were throwing to fairway heads were at 250%, while the fairway head was turned down to 40%.

We spent hours walking the course to locate adjustment issues. We looked at the irrigation design as a 3-D model.

Each area irrigated is impacted by three heads. An adjustment made on a single head will affect the triangulation. This may require additional adjustments to balance the overall area.

Computer driven water usage reports were used on the field to view holes and make any necessary adjustments. This process should not be mistaken for the popular back to zero adjustment that is commonly made each spring by some courses. This process gave us the desired firm conditions that were much more consistent throughout the entire course.

Other water saving ideas

The Rim Golf ClubNow that we had success with the central control system, we began researching ways to save even more water. While touring the course we noticed that the perimeters did not match the original maps.

Perimeter irrigation heads were adjusted to irrigate turfgrass. The turfgrass had encroached into the native areas, overextending many of the part circle irrigation heads. Those irrigation heads were modified with tails to water the turfgrass that had crept behind the irrigation heads.

Defining the course’s perimeter

We then redefined the perimeter of the golf course to match the original design.

Thousands of square feet of turf were removed to bring the edge back in alignment with the heads. Many of the spray arcs were reduced. Nozzle assemblies were replaced with tails to restore them to the original part circle nozzle assembly.

Redefining the perimeter of the golf course saved on water usage, fertilizer, fuel, and manpower. The perimeter was brought back to the map’s specification. The part circle heads were adjusted to water the area less, thus reducing the run-time percentage.

We lacked good hand watering coverage in the fairways. The crew removed internal components and installed an insert to hand water fairways during the summer.

This led to o-ring replacement. Irrigation heads that weren’t installed properly would either be stuck at night or pop out and not water the area at all. Selector switches were stripped into the off position and would undermine adjustments.

Quick couplers were installed throughout the fairways to combat irrigation head problems. The installation also increased the water crew’s overall day-to-day efficiency.

With quick couplers, we:

  • Reduced our water staff
  • Cut down on the number of irrigation failures at night
  • Reduced the amount of area that needed hand watering
  • Applied water faster
  • Increased coverage area

Portable irrigation

The Rim Golf ClubPortable irrigation heads help us cover more ground each day. They also allow us to save on overhead irrigation at night.

Selector switches damaged by the previous year’s hand watering crew were replaced within the irrigation heads.

Each time a switch is replaced, the head must be adjusted. Our irrigation representative had a custom tool available to avoid the difficulties of a pito tube to check and adjust pressure.

We were surprised at how far off the pressure was. Every head that is over pressure is using more water and has poor distribution. Some faint doughnuts were also noticed on a few of the fairways. They were corrected with pressure adjustments.

Implementing water conservation practices has proven to save in more areas than one. Our average annual water usage was reduced over the past 10 years by 3 million gallons annually.

The Rim Golf ClubOur electricity consumption was also reduced by an average of 250 kWh per year. That covers an average household’s consumption for more than three months.

We were on track to save around 600 kWh last year. We also had minor savings in fuel, labor, and chemical use from the reduction of maintained turf.

In 2011, we will begin paying for water. Our estimated cost savings are listed below:

  • Water projected costs savings: $10,000 annually
  • Electricity costs: approximately $5,000 annually
  • Storage transfer costs: approximately $2,000 annually
  • Total estimated annual savings: $17,000 annually

In the future, more turfgrass will be removed to save water. The irrigation system is high maintenance and requires constant attention. We are keeping close track of our manipulations and scheduling. We are also looking at wind breaks for our storage lakes, and rain water harvesting to help offset some of the water usage. Our ultimate goal is to become a sustainably managed property.

Last season has been the driest in years, with little moisture during our monsoon season. We received only 50% of our average rainfall year to date. It has been our best year for course condition since the grow-in of the club. Our water management has proven to work even in the driest of years.

Learn more about The Rim Golf Club.