Water management practices at TPC Sawgrass

Agronomic and environmental best management practices provide environmental stewardship.

Tom Vlach, CGCSTPC Sawgrass
TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra, Fla.
Published date: April 2011

Built in 1980, the Tournament Players Club (TPC) Sawgrass is home to The PLAYERS Stadium golf course and Dye's Valley golf course.

Water is a key resource that is important for successful agronomic operations and business at TPC Sawgrass. We are working toward more sustainable operations on the golf course. Water management, including efficiency, conservation and water quality protection, is a major focus at TPC Sawgrass.

Water management

Professional water management and water quality protection have been key practices from the beginning. During the golf courses’ initial construction, architect Pete Dye wanted to implement native features of Florida’s forests and wetlands.

In addition to the 400 acres of golf course, there are another 400 acres of preserved habitat surrounding the golf course. Both golf courses are filled with lakes and native areas.

Dye’s design incorporates healthy turfgrass and habitat, such as wetlands, forest, and grasslands. This helps to ensure that TPC Sawgrass is a valuable greenspace. Today, professional water management, through the use of best management practices (BMPs), helps us to deliver environmental, social, and economic values to our communities.

There are approximately 250 total acres of irrigated turf at TPC Sawgrass, and there is a unique challenge of distinctly different soils. Many measures have been taken to ensure the effectiveness and timing of water applications. Using technology helps to ensure: 

  • Healthy turfgrass
  • Water conservation
  • Excessive runoff

Best practices

TPC Sawgrass

Additional cultural practices promote healthy turfgrass and resource management. Healthy turfgrass prevents erosion and filter pollutants providing a quality playing experience.

Here are some highlights of irrigation technology and BMPs: 

  • Volumetric water content monitoring is accomplished with the Spectrum TDR 300 soil moisture meter. The Spectrum TDR 300 allows the agronomy team to accurately measure the volumetric water content in the soil. Accurate analysis of moisture allows the agronomy team to identify "hot spots" throughout the property that may need more irrigation. Analysis can also tell us when to decrease the amount of excess water that a surrounding area may not need.The use of rain sensors prevents the irrigation system from operating during a rain event.
  • The PLAYERS Stadium renovation included a new state of the art irrigation system. The system follows the new guidelines for irrigation management. These guidelines include the addition of a higher quantity of smaller, less gallon-per-minute (GPM) style heads. Having a larger quantity of more accurate irrigation heads allows for a more controllable irrigation cycle.
  • Water is applied to areas that need irrigation. The majority of the heads on the golf course are TORO 855. The arc throw, arc angle, and GPM can all be adjusted to create a more efficient irrigation head.
  • A distribution uniformity trial was completed on the property’s greens and fairways to ensure even irrigation applications. Through this extensive trial, individual irrigation stations were adjusted to run according to actual water distribution (in inches of depth) as opposed to a percentage scale.

A BMP case study

TPC Sawgrass

One of our significant BMPs involved our source of irrigation water. In 2008, the agronomy team added a transfer line from the reservoir lakes to the irrigation pond.

This was completed to limit water use from the Florida aquifer. The reservoir lakes serve as drainage for the surrounding communities. The drainage water would have previously drained to the Atlantic Inter-costal waterway and could carry pollutants. Now the water will be filtered through the golf course turfgrass.

This transfer line is capable of providing 650,000 gallons a day, virtually eliminating the need for well water. For example, in September 2007, more than 8 million gallons were pumped from the aquifer for the irrigation pond. Since the addition of the transfer pump in September 2009, only 100,000 gallons were pumped from the aquifer to maintain the irrigation lake level.

Both months had similar rain totals, further highlighting the immense water savings achieved. A smaller transfer pump is also connected to the course's interior lake system, capable of providing 100,000 gallons daily when the lake levels allow.

Water conservation best practicesTPC Sawgrass

Highlights of our cultural practices for water conservation and water quality protection include: 

  • Staff uses soil wetting agents that decreases the chance of moisture loss to applied areas. This decreases the need for excess water.
  • We utilize Evapotranspiration Rates (ET) tracking via the internet. By monitoring ET, we can ensure that each irrigation cycle supplies the amount of water that was lost to evaporation throughout the day. This eliminates any potential for over watering.
  • To protect from runoff, watering cycles always utilize repeat cycles to ensure adequate penetration. Fertilizers are applied when soil conditions are primed for irrigation to aid penetration.
  • Extensive hand watering is completed during dry stretches in weather to keep turf areas in uniform condition without the need to run excessive nightly cycles.
  • Turf clipping tissue testing is done weekly through the Waters Agricultural Labs in Camilla, Ga. The testing monitors fertility needs in relation to the established agronomic schedule. If an upcoming application is to be made, and the latest tissue test indicated that the fertilizer is not necessary, fertilizer use is reduced. This eliminates the potential for nitrogen runoff and eutrophication.
  • The wash rack, built in 2010, separates water from particulates and organic materials, and allows each to be processed properly to eliminate the environmental impact of runoff in our water system.

IPM and nutrient management best practicesTPC Sawgrass

Integrated pest management (IPM) is an important best management practice that incorporates additional cultural practices. IPM is a key element of our agronomic and water quality protection programs.

Pesticides and fertilizers are essential elements of a golf course operation to ensure healthy turfgrass. Professional management of these inputs incorporates science and experience by educating and training professionals to achieve our goals and protect the environment.

At TPC Sawgrass, the agronomy staff is continually looking for ways to make fertility and chemical applications more effective. Being established for more than 30 years has allowed the agronomy team to continually evaluate and improve the use of chemicals and fertilizers on the golf property.

Some highlights of our IPM and nutrient management include: 

  • The fertility plan is developed the year prior to its implementation, and is based upon the success of the previous year's schedule. The plan is routinely altered to minimize any potential excess.
  • All fertilizer applications on the golf courses greens, tees, and fairways are all completed in small controllable amounts to increase the effectiveness of consumption and decrease excess.
  • Spraying soluble nitrogen in quantities under a quarter pound per 1,000 square feet enables maximum plant uptake and use. This allows for consistent coverage through multiple monthly applications during growing seasons instead of larger single applications. Stabilized urea nitrogen is the primary source for these sprays.
  • Granular fertilizer spread in the rough is done with sources that provide at minimum 75% slow release nutrients available by hydrolysis or microbial break down.
  • Soil tests are conducted on all turf areas every three months to analyze the need of all nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, as they have the highest potential to pollute waterways. Tissue testing of all short grass is conducted weekly.
  • All broadcast applications made near waterways are applied by walk spreader and follow the 25 foot barrier area away from the water body.
  • Turf lake banks that need fertilizer are liquid sprayed.
  • Herbicide use is also continually evaluated for need and effectiveness. As a rule, a healthy vigorous turfgrass is the best guard against weeds. No golf course is immune to some infestation. In an attempt to limit environmental impact, spot spraying weeds instead of broadcast spraying is our main form of weed control.  Continual product evaluation should occur to ensure maximum control with each application.
  • The use of fungicides and insecticides are based on rigorous scouting programs that are focused on continually understanding current weather patterns, seasonal pressures and previous occurrences. During hot and dry stretches that typically occur during Florida’s spring and fall seasons, fungicides are nearly eliminated.
  • Damaging insects are targeted yearly to continually reduce populations, and thus reduce the pesticides that are required.

Improving cultural practices and next stepsTPC Sawgrass

Our process of improving cultural practices is well focused on proper soil, water, and fertilizer management, which aides in minimizing the pressures from disease and insects.

The majority of insecticides are applied during summer months when target pests are most active. Fungicide applications typically are most frequent during winter months when daylight is limited and prolonged periods of moist conditions persist. Our relationship with the University of Florida Plant Pathology department ensures that applied fungicides are correct for the target pest.

Proper water, nutrient, and pest management are key aspects of our agronomic operations. Our goal is to provide a quality golf experience and more sustainable operations. In addition, we practice pollution prevention through recycling, waste management, and employee awareness. We incorporate habitat management programs as well as outreach and education initiatives to help ensure our values within our community. These efforts help to ensure our bottom line as well.

Learn more about TPC Sawgrass.