Hillcrest
Country Club

Hillcrest Country Club partnered with Rain Bird to build a fully
integrated irrigation system that met their exact needs.


Introduction

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself short of breath when you walk onto the grounds of the Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, California. The magnificent view will make you gasp.

“It is a beautiful, pristine golf course that is in the middle of the city,” says Lorabeth Catterson, assistant director of agronomy at Hillcrest Country Club. “We have one of the best views: You can see from downtown LA all the way to the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, all the way back around to Century City. And we’re Hillcrest, so that means there’s lots of high points and low points and a lot of good depth to the property. You’re in this little oasis here.”

Unfortunately, Hillcrest wasn’t always the little slice of heaven it is today. Back in 2018, the 98-year-old course was showing its age. The greens weren’t up to par anymore and overgrowth blocked views of the golf course from the clubhouse. Plus, nearby courses at Bel Air Country Club and Los Angeles Country Club had undergone dramatic facelifts. It was time for Hillcrest to get a makeover of its own.

“The greens were at the point where they needed to be renovated,” Catterson says. “The original golf course was about 98 years old, and the performance started to go down; it just got old.“

But anyone who’s renovated something old knows there are all sorts of discoveries to be made once you start peeling back the layers. And that’s exactly what the Hillcrest ground crew found when they got started. Uneven soil, salty water and temperamental turf. Fortunately Rain Bird was there to help.

Project Goals

  • Improved irrigation to better conserve water
  • Sustainable, hands-on control
  • Consistent playing conditions

Challenge 1: Address diverse soil conditions and poor water quality

The biggest challenge revealed itself almost immediately: The freshly sodded and planted grass wouldn’t take water. Spots that were hydro-seeded never firmed up. The Bermuda grass sod was sluggish to root and when the ground crew tried to irrigate, the water ran right off.

“You know that at that point, it’s not so much an irrigation hardware issue as it is a soil and a water issue,” Catterson says.

Soil and water tests quickly showed the problem. High clay content in the soil significantly decreased the percolation rate. And the water had a 1.77 electrical conductivity — much higher than the 0.37 conductivity of the potable source, so the course was dealing with saltier water. Plus, the water registered a high quantity of bicarbonate, which further complicated Hillcrest’s ability to effectively get water into the soil.

Solution: “Fix” the water

“You have to fix your water before you can really fix your soil,” Catterson says. A great irrigation system and first-class turf choices can only do so much when the water itself is a problem.”

How we did it: With a Rain Bird® Pump

California has some of the most stringent regulations and requirements concerning water use. So it’s taken some time for Hillcrest to get the approvals to replace the water infrastructure that feeds the irrigation system. Currently the course is installing a reverse osmosis system to help filter the water, and in just a few months the Rain Bird Pump System will be installed.

Features of the IC system include:

  • Advanced diagnostics that take seconds
  • Data on any issues the heads have experienced
  • Ability to instantly activate single or multiple heads from any mobile-connected device

Challenge 2: Provide uniform playing conditions for inconsistent terrain

The hills and valleys of Hillcrest Country Club make for a picturesque afternoon, but they create a major challenge for the Hillcrest team. By using a combination of satellite maps, aerial photography captured by drones, soil and water tests, and plain old observation, the team identified five different types of soil conditions across the property. They already knew the water was salty, but some parts of the course were more brackish than others. And of course the high parts of the course tended to be drier than the lower parts.

They viewed the course in separate pieces — tees, fairway, surrounds, rough — then evaluated it by areas that were dry, wet, compact or average. Taken together, these variations meant that Hillcrest couldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to irrigating the course.

Solution: Use maps and sensors to diagnose irrigation needs throughout the course

“We had to figure out how to water in the best way,” Catterson says. “We got into these new programs and then came in with soil sensors. We looked at our average area, our compact area, and put soil sensors in so we could have a source of truth and determine our threshold. So, when I fly the drone and I get a map back, I know the water just needs to run in this specific area.”

How we did it: With Rain Bird IC System™

Hillcrest’s highly scientific approach is a perfect fit for the dashboard and data analysis that the Rain Bird IC System™ provides. Using soil moisture sensors and flying a drone gives the team a level of precision that’s vital to providing the playing conditions Hillcrest golfers expect. Additionally, having single head control means watering only where needed to optimize water use in a highly restrictive and regulated environment.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can irrigate to get the most out of our water for the longest period of time because what you really want is deep and infrequent watering,” Catterson says.

“We also use our weather station every day. We’re downloading information about the course’s high/low temperatures, humidity, our ET (evapotranspiration rate), and water conservation rate. Our goal is to get this course information: ‘The temperature was 85 degrees today and the ET was 0.18; if we apply 0.3 of water, how far is that going to go into our soil sensor to get us what volumetric water content?”

Challenge 3: Streamline and pinpoint maintenance

Hillcrest is fortunate to have a long-tenured, dedicated ground crew, but making efficient use of staff and resources is still important. Hillcrest’s golf course sits on a 140-acre property and features 3,000 irrigation heads. If something breaks, the crew can’t spend hours tracking down the source of the problem, and Hillcrest members wouldn’t enjoy the new trench features throughout their round.

Solution: Use a smart system that quickly runs diagnostics

Prized for its pinpoint accuracy, a two-wire IC system continuously monitors the health of the irrigation system. When a problem occurs, the system detects it instantly and identifies the location for a quick fix.

How we did it: With Rain Bird CirrusPRO™ and the two-wire IC System

CirrusPRO, Rain Bird’s fully mobile central control, gives access to all functionality of the central control system to Catterson’s crew on their mobile devices. No other field hardware like satellites or hubs are needed: The IC System and mobile central control take care of it all.

“Because we have the whole central irrigation at the palm of my hand, I don’t have to go all the way back to our central station computer to run a voltage check,” Catterson says.

She’s even tapped into the app’s capabilities from the other side of the country.

“While in DC, I was able to help the other managers in LA work through a problem.” she says. “We had the same capabilities even though we were 3,000 miles from each other.”

Results

The renovation has inspired more people to check out the course and try it for themselves — and they’re comparing it favorably to local courses that are held in high esteem. Hillcrest loves having an organic vegetable garden and fruit trees on the property used for food at the club. They also have an apiary providing a safe place for pollinators and honey to the club. And with a newly installed, efficient system, they have a real-world testament to their “firstgreen” program, which allows members and friends to ask questions about sustainability efforts on the course and how they tie into Hillcrest’s core values.

Catterson is impressed with the progress she’s seen since the renovation was complete. Members appreciate the course more and Hillcrest gets more buzz.

“Now people talk about our course a lot more,” she notes. “I’ve seen some of the members that I used to know at Los Angeles Country Club and they’re wowed. And the new course is bringing new members too. There are more women golfing than there were before, and the junior program is really big. It’s great.”

Testimonial

“I’ve seen some of the members that I used to know at Los Angeles Country Club and they’re wowed. And the new course is bringing new members too. There are more women golfing than there were before, and the junior program is really big. It’s great.”

-Lorabeth Catterson
Assistant Director of Agronomy
Hillcrest Country Club


Continue Reading

  • Conway Farms Golf Club

    Chicago’s Conway Farms is a modern classic designed by Tom Fazio three decades ago. But, as with many courses of that era, time had taken its toll on bunkers and green complexes, and infrastructure like the original golf course irrigation system had aged. Here’s how they gave it all a new life.

  • Druids Glen Golf Course

    Nestled in 360 acres of countryside between the Wicklow Mountains and the Irish Sea near Dublin lies a golfing sanctuary called Druids Glen. The course’s aesthetics needed significant updates, and as a result, golf course maintenance and upkeep became a top priority. Thankfully, Rain Bird had a solution.