Texas A&M University campus golf course strives to conserve, manage water

Since its multi-million dollar renovation in fall of 2013, the Texas A&M University Campus Course has used water-efficient practices and technologies to establish itself as not only a premier golf course but a leader in water conservation.

Management practices to reduce water demand include careful selection of turf varieties and efficient irrigation systems, said Steven Chernosky, golf course superintendent. “I really think that a golf course should be kind of the symbol for conservation,” he said.      

The course grass is selected based on hardiness and watering needs, he said.  All turfgrass grown on the course are Bermuda varieties, with Celebration Bermuda for the fairways, tees and roughs and MiniVerde Bermuda for the greens.

“It’s best fit for this area because it doesn’t require a lot of water and it’s a very aggressive grower,” he said. “It does really well in drought situations where we don’t have to overwater.”

Roughly 10 acres of the course have been transformed into naturalized areas that also help reduce water use, Chernosky said. Such zones are still fertilized and treated as turf but require significantly less water.

“We put out rye grass, and we kind of let it grow up,” he said. “We water it to get it germinated, then we can turn off about 150 sprinkler heads.”

Specific control over all 1,600 of the course’s sprinkler heads is what makes the irrigation system so efficient with its water use, Chernosky said. Water savings can quickly add up with each sprinkler head using approximately 30 gallons of water a minute.

“If we need to run one for 20 minutes, we can run the one next to it for five, if need be,” he said. If a wet area starts to form, Chernosky can shut off the sprinkler heads in that location from his office.

“In the morning when I come in, those will actually be flashing, whichever one is turned on,” he said, referring to the blue dots on his computer screen that correspond to the course sprinklers.

Chernosky said he uses weather readings from the Texas ET Network as well his own observations to make adjustments to the irrigation system accordingly. Such strategic control can aid in reducing unnecessary water use and increase efficiency. “I drive to work sometimes and I see sprinklers going off in the rain,” he said. “Luckily I know here, they’re not.”

As an added protection, the system is designed to shut off when it senses a major pressure drop from a pipe break. The pipes are also made of HDPE, high-density polyethylene, which is a heavier plastic than commonly used PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, Chernosky said.

HDPE pipes are typically used for gas lines due to their ability to withstand ground shifting. “Unless you dig it up with a tractor or hit it with a trencher, more than likely you shouldn’t have any breaks,” he said, jokingly.

Eventually, the golf course irrigation system will run off a weather station to further increase water conservation. The sprinklers’ software can be programmed to water the course based upon data it receives from the station, mainly evapotranspiration (ET) measurements, he said.

The station will send the information to the computer, combine the ET rate with the irrigation rate of the sprinklers and give a recommended run time, Chernosky said. “By having the ET rate, we have a better idea of how much water is actually needed to replace what was lost since the last irrigation cycle.”

A rain sensor will be installed along with the weather station, providing even more technical control over the irrigation. The sprinklers can be shut off after a certain amount of rainfall or irrigate at less than maximum flow, depending on how the golf course management programs it, Chernosky said.

“You will be able to tell the system, after four hours, come on at this percentage,” he said. “So instead of running at 100 percent, it can run at 50 or 60 percent, based on ET calculations.”

The team also uses two types of soil moisture meters every day to check the greens and make sure no overwatering is occurring. 

Efforts to increase water conservation are part of the recommendations by the South Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association to improve golf management practices across the state. Following Georgia’s decision to restrict water usage on golf courses after its major drought from 2007-2009, Texas golf administrators applied similar regulations to their greens, Chernosky said.

Adjusting water use is not only critical for regional drought recovery and prevention, but, according to Chernosky, can be very beneficial for the business. “The price of water has gone up so high,” he said. “We can spend a lot of money on water if we’re not careful.”

Reflecting on the general perception that golf courses are major water wasters, Chernosky said he is proud of his irrigation methods. “I’m proud of the water we have, and I don’t want to just throw it out and waste it,” he said. “I try to educate others on that as well.”

For more on the golf course’s water conservation practices, see the txH2O story, “Charting a new course: Renovated campus golf course prioritizes water conservation.”

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Eva Vigh

By Eva Vigh

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