An Expert Guide to Golf Course Irrigation

Insights from your Trusted Irrigation Specialists in Ontario

“I'm not feeling very well - I need a doctor immediately. Ring the nearest golf course.” 

—Groucho Marx


It’s true; there’s nothing quite as beautiful, refreshing and calming as the vast expanse of a golf course. While maintaining a lush, attractive turf is critical for a golf course, the visual appeal is not the only reason golf course irrigation requires careful attention. The quality of the grass and terrain and the water quality in the ponds or water bodies on the course can hugely impact the golfer's shot. Whether it is a leisure play course or an 18-hole championship course, owners or managers need to ensure the utmost care in terms of golf course irrigation. 


From the water source, pumping stations, and water distribution valves or lines to the central control system, and sprinkler heads, you need to make the right choices for every component of the irrigation system for your golf course.


The experienced Irrigation and Water Management (IWM) professionals at Vanden Bussche Irrigation offer valuable insights about each component of a golf irrigation system. Read on to understand the design and maintenance of sprinkler systems to maintain a spectacular, high-quality golf course. 


Key Factors to Consider in Golf Course Irrigation Systems

For any golf course irrigation system, proper planning and design will go a long way in conserving resources, reducing water wastage, and addressing the property's specific needs. It also depends on whether you are looking at first-time installation, upgrades, or replacements. Today's golf course irrigation systems can range anywhere from $750,000 to over $3- million and even go up to $5- million in some instances. Hence, it may be more prudent to re-evaluate the main components of your irrigation system (if there is one in place already). 


For a new golf course irrigation system design, here are the key components to consider: 

Site Considerations and Water Requirements: Total irrigable areas, turf species, and soil conditions are critical factors in new golf irrigation design planning as they also determine the water requirement for the course.  While the soil types and micro-climates may dictate the water requirement for deep, infrequent cycles to replenish the water in the root zone, the actual irrigable areas may also have varying water requirements depending on aspects, such as sun exposure, hill slopes, and the degree of shade. Hence, it is also essential to determine the maximum turf water requirement. An efficient system will be one that provides maximum precipitation, irrespective of the expected rainfall in your region or location. For example, the average 18-hole golf course has about 35 to 40 acres of mown fairway area, 6 acres of greens and tees, and pumps about 1,000 gallons of water per minute.


Water Quality and Source: Golf courses may use a combination of different water sources, including groundwater, surface water, municipal potable water or flowing water. With the ever-increasing demand for water supply, capturing more runoff water may be worthwhile or evaluating options for receiving effluent water. For golf courses that receive water from a Municipal Water Source (MWS), you could look at installing a:

  • Booster pump – for maintaining adequate pressure and flow in your water distribution systems
  • Backflow equipment – to prevent contaminants, pathogens or other pollutants from impacting the quality of your irrigation water.


Pumping System:  Over the years, advances in pumping technology have led to the emergence of pre-packaged pump stations that can hugely benefit golf course irrigation. Offering affordable and reliable intelligent monitoring capabilities and remote connectivity, the new-age pumping systems can make your water usage highly efficient and economical.


Hydraulic Network: The age, type, and materials of the pipes and fittings tend to play a significant role in the efficiency and effectiveness of the golf irrigation system. PVC or high-density polyethylene, it is essential to use the correct pipe size and check the water velocity and dynamic and static pressure at all the critical points. Incorrect sizing or materials could lead to low or insufficient pressure in certain spots or varied watering across different areas or zones. Even if your hydraulic network is well-planned, a poor installation job could lead to premature failures in the system components or fittings, leading to spikes in your irrigation costs.


Distribution System: One of the most important aspects of a golf course irrigation system is the type of sprinklers. Golf irrigation sprinklers are pretty different from those used in general landscape irrigation. Each course may use various types, such as short radius block rotors and valve in head rotors. Both electric and integrated control rotors are considered valve in head rotors. No matter which sprinkler type you go for, the critical aspects are sprinkler placement, spacing, and performance for all the areas that need irrigation. The consistency and uniformity of irrigation depend not just on the sprinkler spacing but also the type of nozzle used and available water pressure. Ideally, you need an 85 percent or higher distribution uniformity, and anything less than 55 percent is not desirable. Conducting a water distribution audit with the help of a certified golf auditor will provide insights into the sprinkler performance, including the distribution uniformity. Rain Bird golf rotors are well known to offer the highest distribution uniformity on the market.


Electrical or Control System: Irrigation control systems for golf courses are sophisticated software programs that operate from digital devices, such as computers, laptops or smartphones. Since each golf course sprinkler is individually controlled and pressure-regulated, it allows for consistent and precise watering regardless of the elevation or distance from the water supply. However, the integrity of the control systems can make or break your golf irrigation system. Hence, take into consideration the materials of the insulators, as well as the quality of splicing. Instead of systems with field controllers, decoders, and secondary wiring or splices, check out the central control systems that potentially reduce wear, malfunction or breakdowns.  Study all the features and choose a control system from a reputed company, such as Rain Bird. Some of their latest models for golf irrigation central control systems are easy-to-program and offer 72-station capability, unlimited centrally controllable programs, premium surge protection, extensive diagnostics, and even a top-notch pedestal enclosure. Their patented Integrated Control system is unmatched in the market. It is the only system that can offer constant communication from your digital device to the field devices on the property. There are significantly less parts to install compared to competitive systems, it is extremely user friendly, and its diagnostics can pinpoint where issues are, if they arise.


Weather Stations: Golf courses often have their own onsite weather stations that provide real-time evapotranspiration data to the golf irrigation control system. The control system automatically adjusts the sprinkler run times based on its inputs, including intelligent differentiation of the watering patterns for different areas, such as the greens, fairway, tee or rough. 


Roadmap for Golf Course Irrigation Systems

As a manager or owner, you may have a broad understanding of what is needed for irrigating the golf course. You likely have access to reports of the current system, maintenance costs, recurring repairs, or additional working hours spent hand watering in case of system failures. However, if you are looking to renovate or upgrade an existing golf course irrigation system, here are some additional aspects to consider:


Course-Specific Needs: Do you need any architectural changes to remain or become a competitive golf course? Are there any regulatory or operational challenges that can be addressed through a better, more efficient golf irrigation system?


Irrigation Evaluation: Have you hired an expert for a comprehensive irrigation evaluation?  A thorough audit of your current system will help determine the scale and complexity of the renovation required. This includes:

  • Checking the availability of backup water sources, such as ponds, lakes, wells or rivers onsite
  • Ensuring that you account for current and future water usage and storage needs and build for additional capacity in the event of a drought or water shortage
  • Checking power supply to determine the sustainability
  • Reviewing the location of the current infrastructure, especially if you are planning to add new power or water supply sources


Budgeting and Contingency Planning: Due to the speed of technological advances, newer, better, and more efficient systems will continue to flood the market every 3 to 4 years. So, while you make your golf irrigation budget, plan for contingencies to ensure that you have the flexibility to invest in future upgrades. It is possible that sustainability issues, environmental concerns, and member reviews and feedback on the quality of the course may also drive critical decisions in your golf irrigation upgrades or renovations. For example, fairway conversions to low water grasses have helped many golf courses conserve water and generate better profits. 


Suitable Professional Partners: Choose the right partners for a seamless and successful golf irrigation project. Your golf architect, contractors, irrigation consultants, and other specialists need to work cohesively to bring you the best possible outcomes.


Optimize the Operation of Your Golf Course Irrigation System

No matter which golf irrigation system you install, it is important to ensure that the course is not over or under-irrigated. Additionally, it is advisable to irrigate a golf course in the early morning hours because later in the day, there could be

  • More water loss due to evaporation 
  • Bad distribution of winds 
  • Higher levels of algae
  • Higher chance of infection in leaves and soil
  • Inconvenience to the players or visitors on the course


Ensuring a quality golf experience for your players, members, and visitors requires keeping golf courses looking their best at all times. Here are some effective irrigation maintenance activities that you may want to conduct at regular intervals.

Rotor Maintenance: Inspect each golf rotor for proper arc adjustment, rotation, thatch build-up, and worn nozzles or seals.

Controller Tune-up: Experts suggest adopting the triple “A” approach of Anticipate – Adjust – Achieve while maintaining the irrigation control system. Anticipating weather changes and adjusting or modifying the irrigation schedule can help you achieve your water conservation targets without causing any disturbances to the players or members.

Controller Parts: The controller is like the brain of your golf irrigation system. Ensuring that its parts and components are running efficiently is a key aspect of the maintenance schedule. Inspect the wiring, check the cabinet for rodents, debris, or moisture, which can ruin the circuit board, replace the controller’s backup batteries periodically, check and clean the rain sensors, and check the connections and ground rod connectivity. Keep in mind that improperly grounded controllers could void the manufacturer’s warranties.


Top Golf Irrigation Systems and Equipment in Our Portfolio

At Vanden Bussche Irrigation, we specialize in designing, planning, and installing landscape and golf irrigation for a wide range of establishments throughout Ontario. Besides water-smart, advanced irrigation systems, we offer an extensive catalogue of high-quality golf irrigation parts and components. We are a leading supplier of world-class irrigation system supplies for golf markets across the country, from pump stations, weather stations, and golf rotors to central controlled systems, valves, pipes, and other fittings and fabrications. Whether you need onsite troubleshooting, preventative maintenance, pump services, system training, or any other golf irrigation assistance, you can count on our qualified and knowledgeable professionals for all aspects of golf irrigation.


Check out our extensive product catalogue and count on us for all your golf irrigation needs. We also offer an online training portal that features educational courses and certifications on various facets of irrigation management. 


Reach out to our technical experts at a convenient location near you, or contact us online, and one of our representatives will get in touch with you soon.