Attendees tapped into water at GCSAA Conference and Trade Show

Sustainability and water conservation discussions dominated sessions and interactive facility tours.


Interactive facility tour at Paradise Valley Country Club
Superintendent Rob Collins speaks to visitors at Paradise Valley Country Club during the Water Management Solutions facility learning tour on Jan. 29 in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Photo by Darrell J. Pehr

Visitors to Phoenix last month were immediately reminded of the scarcity of water in the parched landscape that surrounds that desert city. From the saguaro cactus visible on the distant Arizona hillsides to a blue-sky forecast free of precipitation for the entire week, attendees at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show found themselves in an environment where water is a rare and critical resource.

Water was a topic discussed at many of the educational sessions, Power Hours and, especially, interactive facility tours, where the stark contrast between green fairways and rocky, brown boundary acreage surrounding Phoenix-area golf courses vividly illustrated the importance of this precious resource.

With seven facility tours to choose from, superintendents and other participants had plenty of options, including one of the Jan. 29, tours: Water Management Solutions, presented by Toro. Presentations were spread across several sites at Paradise Valley Country Club in nearby Paradise Valley, Ariz. Several speakers discussed the advantages turf managers can achieve by scheduling irrigation and using data generated across the golf course to help make irrigation decisions. USGA scientist Matteo Serena, Ph.D., outlined a subsurface irrigation project he has been involved in at the Club at Las Campanas in Santa Fe, N.M., where water savings range from 80%-90%. Benefits of subsurface irrigation also include less soil compaction when compared to overhead irrigation, said Serena, who serves as senior manager of irrigation research and services for USGA.

The Jan. 30 education lineup included more opportunities to gain real-world guidance on sustainable, low-water-use practices. And as many superintendents consider the best ways to follow their best management practices, several speakers provided valuable BMP insights during the facility learning tour — The Technology of Implementing BMPs, presented by Helena — at Marriott’s Camelback Golf Club.

Among the speakers, Greg Brandriet, CGCS, superintendent at Camelback’s Ambiente Course, outlined how the club developed minimal management and native areas. With an intermittent waterway — the Indian Bend Wash — running through the course, attention to water running onto and off the property was critical. A decision was made in 2012 to turn more than half of the course’s 200 acres of manicured turf to native or minimal management vegetation areas. Brandriet said native plants were selected for areas where grass was removed, and the club gained its Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary certification. Since then, some 40 different species of birds have been identified, and resident coyotes, bobcats and rabbits are regularly sighted.

Water savings have been dramatic, with nonturf areas either never watered or only watered when new plants were planted. Work also has been done to establish pollinator areas and fish habitat in the pond, and water running off the course during rainy periods is filtered as it passes through the native areas, Brandriet said.

Water savings was a topic during many indoor sessions, including a Power Hour: Leveling Up Your Agronomic Game.

A.J. Lindsey, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Horticulture at the University of Florida, started off the session with an update on research that showed the power of adding organic matter to soil to significantly increase the amount of water it can hold. That can translate to a reduction in irrigation of 25%-50%, Lindsey said.

“It looks like it might be possible, if you are tilling in organic matter, to actually save water,” Lindsey said. “This could be useful if your golf course is getting some water restrictions. This could especially be good in fairway applications.”

The scarcity and importance of water served as an important theme throughout much of the educational component of this year’s conference in Phoenix. During the Jan. 29 facility tour, Rob Collins, golf course superintendent at Paradise Valley Country Club, summed up the seriousness of the situation. “Nobody’s giving you more water. It’s only going to get worse,” he said.

Darrell J. Pehr is GCM’s science editor.