Pro Turf International Creates Successful Water Conservation Programs For Clients

LAS VEGAS, NV  – The scarcity of water in southwestern cities like Las Vegas is not a new issue. Water levels in Lake Mead, the main water source in the region, have been dropping steadily for decades, and the substantial growth of Las Vegas has certainly added to the challenge.

What is new as it relates to the golf course industry, however, are steps being taken by golf course maintenance companies like Pro Turf International to assist courses in trimming water usage without sacrificing course conditioning.

“Golf course operators have had to become smarter and more creative in how they keep their courses properly irrigated, attractive and playable,” said Mickey Brown, CEO of PTI, a golf course maintenance, construction, renovation and landscaping company based in Las Vegas. “Water conservation is a major focus when we develop maintenance plans for our clients.”

PTI oversees all maintenance operations for several southwestern courses. Below are some of the programs the company is implementing at courses like Red Rock Country Club, Las Vegas National, The Golf Club at La Quinta and Isleta Golf Club.

UPDATING IRRIGATION SYSTEMS

Some of the older courses still use outdated and inefficient irrigation systems. When PTI is contracted by a golf course to facilitate the maintenance program, the first thing done is an audit of the irrigation system.

“We check all aspects of irrigation,” said Jared Bumpus, Director of Maintenance for PTI. “We determine where there are deficiencies, then we make changes to create better and more consistent pressure throughout the course. Sometimes that means replacing an antiquated system.”

Such was the case when PTI was signed by Red Rock Country Club in Las Vegas in 2013 to oversee maintenance on its three championship layouts. The system was utilizing hundreds of “pop-up” sprinkler heads, the kind you see in lawns.  These heads break easily, get clogged with materials and in general are not very efficient.

“I’m just not a big fan of pop-ups, and neither are my irrigators,” said Bumpus. “If two or three heads break, the entire line suffers pressure loss. Our superintendents were spending a lot of time fixing pop-ups rather than spending that time working on the course itself. “

Bumpus and his crew replaced all pop-ups with smaller, more durable heads more suited for golf courses. Players saw an immediate difference in the consistency of the turf areas, and course management saw a major difference in the water bill.

Thom Blinkinsop, Regional General Manager at Red Rock, called hiring PTI “probably the best decision I’ve ever made.”

TURF REMOVAL

It’s only logical. The less turf there is to water, the less water needed to keep the course green and playable.

Roughs are the largest area of maintained turf on most golf courses. The recent trend, especially in the southwest, finds courses replacing large areas of rough with areas featuring natural vegetation and growth.

The state of Nevada has instituted an incentive program that rewards golf courses, homeowners and businesses that eliminate turf. The state issues payments based on the square footage of turf taken out. It is a popular program that has expanded every year, and obviously has had a positive impact on water usage. The other side benefit for courses is that it reduces power usage in delivering the water from pump stations. Another area of savings.

There is only a certain amount of turf that can removed out and still keep the courses playable, so this is a limited effort.

Advancements in Bermuda grass strains have helped with water conservation. There are new types of grass that resist going dormant and green up quicker. Says Bumpus, “If you can find a grass that grows in summer AND winter it is going to be a home run.”

IMPROVED PRODUCTS

The use of surfactant has become prevalent among southwest golf courses. This is a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved. Ever noticed the water beads on your car after a wax job? That is water tension that forms the beads. Surfactants break down that water tension, helping to hydrate golf courses more freely and evenly, requiring less water. It also helps eliminate dry spots, spreading the water equally.

“I think these are some of the best chemicals ever created,” said Bumpus. “I would think every golf course in the southwest is on some type of program with surfactants. They have been around probably before I was born, but their usage on golf courses has become prevalent in the past 10 to 20 years.”

There could be a down side to using surfactants. If they are applied incorrectly they could burn the turf. But that is the same with fertilizer, and superintendents are well versed in application of surfactant.

Slow-release fertilizer applied in the spring and summer has cut down on nitrogen consumption, meaning courses don’t get that surge of growth that requires more water. Instead you get a consistent growth pattern, so water requirements are lowered and the grass doesn’t need mowing as often.

Par 3 17th hole at Siena Golf Club in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Allan Henry/Golf Chronicles)

TO OVERSEED, OR NOT TO OVERSEED?

Golfers traveling from cold weather regions to tourist areas like Las Vegas expect to see plush green golf courses, and don’t mind paying up for the beautiful conditions. And those courses count heavily on the vacationing golfer revenue.

It has become increasingly more expensive to overseed in late summer, however, for several reasons. Labor and product costs continue to rise, and courses lose revenue during overseeding as the course is typically closed for two to three weeks while the winter rye takes hold. Plus, water costs soar during the grow-in period.

So course managers have been forced to change tradition.

“People are condensing the amount of the golf course they overseed with winter rye, and some have even gone to no overseed at all,” said Bumpus. “Even though the dormant grass is not green, it is still very playable. But visiting golfers want to see that fresh green look, so it can be a tough decision.”

Many courses have turned to painting their fairways and tees with pigment, giving it that clean plush look golfers expect. The cost of painting is similar to that of overseeding. Two big advantages:  Water usage is cut dramatically, and courses lose far less playing days, putting more greens fees in the cash register.

“Eventually this will be the new norm,” said Bumpus. “I’ve never seen water prices go down. Ever. So even a small jump in usage is money out of the pocket immediately. If courses can trim water usage, it is a good thing for everyone.”

EVERY GOLF COURSE, EVERY HOLE, IS DIFFERENT

“What we do really well as a company is, we get to know each golf course intimately, and then we create a plan to keep the course in the best condition possible. Then we stick to it,” said Bumpus. “Every golf course is different and every golf hole is a little bit different. You have to get out on the course and find out where your trouble areas are.

“I have a saying for my guys. Bring your dog ‘Spot’ to work. Be prepared to do spot watering, spot fertilizing and spot aerifying on the trouble spots. Hand watering can be very effective and save on water usage. Why blanket an entire area on a golf hole with water when you only have one small hot spot that a hand-held hose can remedy?”

Turf on southwest golf courses tends to become very compacted. That’s why PTI aerifies wall-to-wall four or five times each year. This helps the water seep into the soil, lowering water usage in the long run.

In the end, the best way for golf courses to conserve water is to create a thorough plan customized for each specific course, then stay with it.

“In a nutshell, it’s everything that we do, all put together, that contributes to water conservation on the courses we manage, coupled with consistency,” said Bumpus. “We have a plan and we’re systematic in what we’re doing day to day.”

ABOUT PRO TURF INTERNATIONAL

PTI is a Las Vegas-based, family owned construction, landscape and golf maintenance company with over 30 years of hands-on experience in the Southwest. They proudly serve the golf, sports and landscape industry to enhance quality and improve conditions in a safe, environmentally friendly manner. For more information call (702) 315-5121, or visit www.ptigolf.com.

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