Maintaining a golf course requires the use of one of nature's most precious resources: water. The USGA Green Section is leading an effort to help golf courses conserve, recycle and use water more efficiently. "Science of Golf" is produced in partnership with the United States Golf Association and Chevron.
DAN HICKS, reporting: With sculpted landscapes, rolling fairways and manicured greens, the game of golf is directly linked to the environment, but creating these playing surfaces requires one of nature's most precious resources: water.
KIMBERLY ERUSHA (Green Section, USGA): Water conservation is a big issue for golf course management. We've recognized it's a big issue now, as well as it's going to be a big issue for the future.
HICKS: Kimberly Erusha is the managing director of the Green Section at the United States Golf Association. Made up of a team of agronomists, scientists that specialize in turf and soil management, the Green Section is leading an effort to educate golf course superintendents on ways to capture, reuse and conserve water.
ERUSHA: It's important that we base those decisions on water application on science and ultimately, that's going to help cut down on the amount of irrigation that's used on a golf course overall.
HICKS: The first step to improving water conservation is to maximize the use of natural rainfall. Architects are designing courses to capture runoff in on-site ponds and lakes that can then be pumped back into course irrigation systems.
ERUSHA: The idea is that you tie in what you have for rainfall on the golf course, utlizing your water resource then and tie those together to be able to properly irrigate the golf course.
HICKS: Some golf courses are also connecting to their community's wastewater system and using recycled water to irrigate. Another step to improving water conservation is the development of new varieties of turfgrass that use less water and are able to tolerate lower quality water.
ERUSHA: One of the advantages of turfgrasses is that they have very extensive root systems and they have a great ability to be able to cleanse that water of some of those pollutants.
HICKS: In addition, some courses are deciding to reduce the amount of turfgrass they use all together and replace it with turfgrasses native to the region that require much less water.
ERUSHA: You want to make sure that you pick the right turfgrass that is able to withstand the environmental conditions that you have, and by making the right choice, it helps you cut down on the amount of water that you have to apply.
HICKS: But some of the most exciting advances in water conservation are new high-tech tools such as this soil moisture sensor. Connected directly to the golf course's irrigation system, the sensor is implanted in the soil of the putting green and is able to measure soil moisture using electrical conductivity.
JIM MOORE (Green Section, USGA): So you have metal probes in the ground and we can measure how quickly or how easily electricity can get from one probe to the other. If there's more water in a soil, then the electricity is going to move better and will get a higher reading.
HICKS: Along with soil moisture data, the sensor is also able to measure soil temperature and salinity, or salt content, which slows down the growth of turfgrass. The data is then wirelessly sent back to the superintendent's computer or mobile device to decide if irrigation is needed. This portable device also monitors soil moisture with probes that stick 3 inches into the putting green.
ERUSHA: You can monitor different sections of the putting green to look at the moisture levels, and then the superintendent uses that information to determine how much water is going to be applied on the putting green for that day.
HICKS: The information from the moisture meter also gives the superintendent the opportunity to hand water certain problem areas of the green rather than turning on the entire irrigation system. Most golf courses are also equipped with weather stations that provide course managers with data such as humidity, wind, rainfall and something called evapotranspiration or ET. Evapotranspiration is the amount of the water lost to both evaporation and transpiration. Evaporation is the conversion of water from a liquid to a gas or vapor due to heat. Transpiration describes the movement of the water through the plant from the moment it is absorbed through its roots until it is released into the atmosphere through the plant's leaves.
ERUSHA: ET data is collected on the weather station and the superintendent uses that information to determine how much irrigation is going to be applied to the golf course.
HICKS: By knowing how much water is lost over a 24 hour period, course managers can prevent over watering and apply the exact amount needed to replenish the soil.
KEN GORZYCKI (Agronomist, Horseshoe Bay Resort): So we would have to replace 0.07 inches of irrigation to replenish the water that's been lost in the last 24 hours.
HICKS: By capturing and reusing water, choosing the appropriate turfgrass and implementing new technology, golf course superintendents are able to save thousands of gallons of water on a single course, sometimes at just the push of a button.