Given the costs of upgrading and modernization, many courses are forced to work with an inefficient irrigation system and try to minimize any negative effects on the turf and course playability. The $1 million- to $2 million-plus price tag for an irrigation system renovation is a hard sell to a club whose members won’t notice the upgraded system buried underground, as readily as they might notice new bunkers or cart paths. Often, it’s difficult for clubs to communicate the agronomic benefits of increased water distribution uniformity, efficiency, control and system management. At National Golf Links of America in South Hampton, NY, Golf Course Superintendent Bill Salinetti saw past the barriers and replaced an outdated, circa-1998 irrigation system with a new, state-of-the-art system in 2007.

Built in 1911, National is a classic C.B. Macdonald links design with deliberate mow lines, different turf types and striking contrast between roughs, fairway cut and putting surfaces. Outside the narrow strips of primary rough are seemingly unplayable native grasses that penalize the errant golf shot. By 2007, technology and knowledge had advanced significantly, making National’s previous irrigation system outdated and inefficient. With its new system in 2007, National improved irrigation system efficiency, saving water while also improving the course conditioning for members, day in and day out. Salinetti is known for providing firm and fast course conditions with remarkable attention to detail and consistency. Salinetti will be the first to tell you how important irrigation system control and reliability is to provide repeatable, consistent course conditioning.

“The control and precision we have with our current irrigation system is incredibly important to providing consistent results,” Salinetti says. “I know when I leave at night, the course is receiving exactly the irrigation needed. The intelligence of the central control software allows it to make instant adjustments as conditions change, even in the middle of the night when nobody is at the course.”

The old system consisted primarily of double-row irrigation throughout the course. It was also referred to as a “block-style” system, meaning multiple sprinklers were controlled by one electric remote valve. There were approximately 600 sprinklers on 76 acres of maintained turf. Spacing was consistent with irrigation system designs of that era, with fairway sprinklers spaced at 75-plus feet apart. This design provided little control, and its distribution uniformity was particularly poor, given National’s windy conditions and required sprinkler throw distance.

With the old system’s challenges continuing to build, the club decided in late 2006 to move forward with a complete irrigation system replacement. National’s irrigation system renovation was justified and approved based on the long-term benefits of water management and improved uniformity. The renovation would also serve as a tool to help Salinetti continue to deliver championship-level playing conditions.

The new irrigation system was designed with 4,000 sprinkler heads and a new Rain Bird control system. Fairway irrigation was designed at closer 65-foot triangular spacing with single sprinkler control. By applying a precise amount of water only where needed, low trajectory, part-circle, block-type sprinklers make it possible to irrigate the narrow strips of primary rough while consistently maintaining the unique native-area mow lines. Part-circle sprinklers irrigate small tee tops independently of the surrounding roughs, allowing Salinetti to customize the amount of water to the two different surfaces with totally different plant-water requirements. National is subject to a constant wind due to its location between the Great Peconic Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, so the designer and Salinetti chose the specific spacing and pattern as well wind-tolerant nozzles designed to deliver uniform irrigation even in the constant wind that often exceeds five miles per hour.

Salinetti can now precisely control when, where and how much water is applied to the different turf types throughout the property for proven, responsible water savings. The large number of sprinkler heads throughout the hundred acres and tighter sprinkler spacing give Salinetti the ability to irrigate specific areas and control both playability and turf health like never before. The new sprinklers’ dramatically improved water distribution uniformity provides greater efficiency, resulting in shorter runtimes, achieving excellent turf heath with less water. Multiply that over the thousands of sprinklers and the water savings add up quickly.

Now that the system has turned 10+ years old, the collected data over the lifespan of the new, modern system shows the return on investment associated with fewer labor hours, less power, lower water consumption, greater playability and improved turf health. Furthermore, Salinetti and his staff are less stressed thanks to their reliable, efficient irrigation system with its built-in intelligence to make application and runtime decisions.

National has solidified its position as an elite course due to the architectural brilliance of its century-old design and layout. Obviously, the meticulous manicuring and course conditioning provided day after day by Salinetti and his staff contribute to this honor. These tasks are made easier by an efficient, reliable irrigation system capable of providing precise water distribution. Responsible management of the now-10-year-old-system by Salinetti and his staff has resulted in water, energy and resource savings that testify to the importance of efficient irrigation.

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