Prestwick St Nicholas
Golf Club

On one of the driest links courses in Scotland, continual unplanned maintenance, an outdated irrigation system and inefficient pumps led the greenkeeping team to seek out a solution that saves them time on repairs and reduces water use.


Introduction

One of the world’s oldest golf clubs, Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club, is a traditional links course on the west coast of Scotland between the Ayr to Glasgow railway line and the shores of the Firth of Clyde. With views of the Isle of Arran, this 18-hole course has free-draining sandy soil, gorse, deep bunkers and ever-present coastal winds.

In 2019, head greenkeeper John MacLachlan and his team highlighted the urgent need to replace the almost 50-year-old irrigation system. Keeping it operational was an ongoing battle, with an outdated irrigation system that required continual unplanned maintenance and inefficient pumps. They decided to look for an all-new system to fix their ongoing issues and also provide uniform and targeted coverage.

Project Goals

  • Install a smart irrigation system that allows them to be proactive and make split-second operational adjustments with real-time data
  • Achieve uniform irrigation coverage
  • Optimize overseeding, top dressing and hand watering efforts

Challenge 1: Replace inefficient pumps and worn-out underground infrastructure

A significant portion of the budget was being spent on overseeding, top dressing and hand watering — especially on roughs and semi roughs — only to see some areas dry up completely in the summer. Every day the team would find burst pipes and pumps running at around 60% efficiency, plus areas getting much more water than they needed. All of the hard work and invested time was being lost due to irrigation system issues.

“The objective for a links course is not to produce lush, green turf but to maintain healthy sod that can withstand the traffic of play and frequent mowing at low-cut height, which means keeping soil moisture as low as possible while maintaining turf vitality,” explains irrigation consultant Giles Wardle of Irriplan. “There have been three very dry springs in the last six years, and that puts more demands on an old, inefficient irrigation system. A dry spring means the greenkeeping team has to play ‘catch up’ all summer.”

Solution: Upgrade the irrigation infrastructure to handle a wider range of water demands

A new, efficient irrigation system is essential to protect a links course of this caliber for the future. When presented with a detailed comparison between two- and three-row coverage, club members voted overwhelmingly for the more comprehensive specification and three-row solution.

Solution: Restructuring the pump house and piping

A new, insulated pump station with three higher-capacity pumps and larger diameter polyethylene piping underground makes for a much more reliable system and reduces the irrigation operating window from 10 to 8 hours — a 20% time savings.

Challenge 2: Reduce time and labor needed to manage the irrigation system

When decoders fail, an entire wire path can be taken out. In the past, this required someone in the greenkeeping team to go out on the course to find the fault location, which can take hours or even days. The team needed a way to pinpoint issues much more quickly.

Solution: Intuitive, long-term system to identify issues before they became problems

The new pipe network has a design life of about 50 years, and the hardware and rotors have a useful life well in excess of 25 years. This efficient new irrigation system is essential to protect the Prestwick St Nicholas links course for the future.

How we did it: Installation of a Rain Bird® IC System™

The advanced system diagnostics now in place can proactively flag issues with any individual rotor or valve and display the information on a system PC or any mobile device. Each rotor is equipped with an ICM (Integrated Control Module) and is in real-time, two-way communication with the central control to ensure optimum performance. With the Rain Bird IC system, the team can check the health of over 1,000 ICMs in 45 seconds. Replacing the previous decoder system with the most up-to-date technology on the market has enabled the club to manage its long-term water needs while saving time and labor.

Over 800 Rain Bird 752 and 702 Series rotors were installed across the course. 752 Series rotors were installed on the fairways for full-circle coverage in the middle and part-circle perimeter coverage to prevent dry, scallop-shaped patches. Back-to-back rotors were specified on greens. Rain Bird Series rotors were selected for their Rapid-Adjust Technology and for Memory Arc®, which retains two part-circle arc settings that can be easily changed from full to part-circle operation in seconds. This provides the greens staff with complete irrigation coverage flexibility and reduces both run time and water consumption.

Challenge 3: Simplify maintenance and troubleshooting

Without a smart software system, pinpointing and remedying issues took excessive time and effort for the Prestwick St Nicholas greenkeeping team.

Solution: A fully mobile central control system

The team was eager to utilize a system that securely adjusts irrigation in real time from any place, on any device.

The greenkeeping team now has the ability to be proactive and make split-second operational adjustments to ensure efficient and effective irrigation.

How we did it: Installation of CirrusPRO™ Central Control software offering full mobile map functionality, multiple watering options and data capabilities

The new irrigation system was fully operational by August 2022, and there was a visible difference almost immediately.

“Rain Bird CirrusPRO mapping is fantastic, and being Windows-based, it’s very easy to use,” MacLachlan says. “For anyone looking at system renovation, don’t be shy to try what can appear to be very technical and sophisticated technology. With this system, you can select a single rotor with one finger on your phone. We can now pick and choose precisely where we irrigate — or determine if there are faults — while sitting in the office or at home to see exactly what’s happening. It saves so much time.”

As an example, in March 2023 his team built a couple of new bunkers and could set rotors specifically for them, which they weren’t able to do in the past.

Results

The team at Prestwick St Nicholas now has the ability to pick and choose precisely where they irrigate, plus they can monitor their system on-site or remotely. In addition to easier maintenance, improved water use and decreased water consumption mean greener days ahead for both the club and its members.

Testimonial

“The new system has made a massive difference to us and is a 100% improvement on what we had. I can’t praise it enough.”

-John MacLachlan
Head Greenkeeper
Prestwich St Nicholas Golf Club


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