News & Blog

Golf Green Technology: Should be Mandatory on Small Islands

Posted on May 21, 2009

from the NY TImes:
Greens Technology – Sensors Help Save Water –

[We’re not a great fan of golf courses on small tropical islands, but it seems the market demands them for certain kinds of tourism. One of the biggest problems created by golf courses is water use — especially in the smaller, drier islands, and the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that are carried to the sea by over-watering. The new sensor-based technologies described in this article are not a cure-all, but they seem to help with many water-use related problems, and the technology is certainly cheap enough to be afforded by ANY modern proposed development.

The main article in the NY Times has some diagrams that may be worthwhile, but after May 28, 2009, there may be a charge to access the story. Bruce Potter]

May 21, 2009

On Golf Courses,
Sensors Help Save Water


In seven years of overseeing every root and blade of grass on the grounds at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., Matt Shaffer has built a reputation on innovation and conservation. An early advocate of course playability over aesthetics, he long lived by the maxim “the drier, the better.”

But when a stifling heat wave threatened the club’s greens before the 2005 United States Amateur Championship — a record 17th U.S.G.A. championship at Merion — Shaffer turned to his old boss, Paul R. Latshaw Sr., for advice. Latshaw told him there was one way he could continue to cut down water use while keeping his turf dry and as fast as a microwave: sensors.

Wireless sensors were little more than a rumor in those days, but Shaffer trusted Latshaw, followed the advice and installed a product called RZ Wireless before the championship. The technology helped him enjoy four years of successful water conservation. Although doubtful he could improve on what he had, Shaffer decided last month to upgrade his system with a promise of even greater savings.

“I am probably known as one of the best waterers,” Shaffer, the club’s director of golf operations, said in a recent interview. “And I thought, man, I don’t know why I’m getting these sensors because I know I’m dry.”

He added: “Well, what I thought was dry isn’t even my baseline. These sensors are just so much more sensitive, so much better, so much more complete. I am now hooked. I’m a sensor addict.”

This is a green addiction with the potential to spread, with more than 20 states affected by some form of drought and water restrictions a daily reality in cities across the nation.

At least three companies are competing in the market for subterranean wireless sensors, which monitor moisture, temperature and salinity in the soil and feed the data to a software network accessed remotely on a laptop, a handheld device or a desktop computer. The system could be used far beyond the golf course — on other athletic fields, in agriculture, in both home and commercial landscaping, and in parks.

The leader in the clubhouse so far is a system called UgMo, a network of wireless sensors that mine subsurface data and link to a software package developed by Advanced Sensor Technology of King of Prussia, Pa., the original manufacturers of the RZ system. The company announced its updated system in February and made it available in early April, installing it at golf meccas like Merion, Desert Mountain outside Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Card Sound Golf Club on Key Largo, Fla.

Early adopters say they will cut an average of 10 percent of their typical water use, amounting to millions of gallons of water each year. At that rate, the system would pay for itself within the first year, depending on the volume of water a course uses.

“We were a very efficient operation to start with,” said Shawn Emerson, the superintendent at Desert Mountain Golf Club, a complex of six courses with 500 acres of turf in the desert Southwest. “With these sensors, we only water when the soil tells us it needs to be watered.”

He said the club would save a total of more than 100 million gallons of effluent water, or an average of between 18 million and 20 million gallons per course for the year. That would mean roughly $130,000 in savings based on current prices.

Advanced Sensor’s competitors include the industry giant Toro, of Bloomington, Minn.; and Environmental Sensors, Inc., based in Victoria, British Columbia. Each has introduced wireless systems designed for golf courses within the past four months.

The competition has, predictably, spawned litigation. Advanced Sensor filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Toro in January 2008. The case, which involves the movement of a former Advanced Sensor wireless system designer to Toro, is scheduled for trial July 30 in federal court in Philadelphia, barring a settlement.

Walter Norley, the founder and chief executive of Advanced Sensor, said his company was well positioned to grow and had begun making inroads in the sports turf market. He pointed to his company’s recent installation of the UgMo system at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., a complex of athletic fields that is home to the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA of Major League Soccer. He also mentioned legislation pending in Florida — which last week declared a drought emergency — that would mandate water conservation measures by irrigators that could provide his company with a large number of customers.

“The reality is that that the water situation itself is very significant,” Norley said. “There is usage legislation in a number of states, and when it comes to mandates, the golf world will be the lowest-hanging fruit of all the irrigation applications. If decisions are to be based on who gets water, crops for food or someone’s green, green, green fairways, it’s pretty obvious who will get the water.”

Golf accounts for 0.5 percent of annual water usage in the United States, according to a study released this year by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Golf courses are all but weaned from municipal fresh-water systems, with 86 percent now using some other source, liked recycled effluent water, surface water or water treated by reverse osmosis. Significantly, 70 percent of superintendents surveyed said they were keeping their turf drier.

But fewer than 100 of the estimated 15,700 golf courses in the United States have sensors installed. The introduction of relatively cheap and highly accurate systems could change that.

For slightly more than $11,000, a golf course could install an UgMo subsurface system that would include 18 wireless sensors, 3 routers and gateways, software and help from an agronomy support staff.

Norley said his company would have 48 completed installations by the end of June, with 14,000 sensors back-ordered for installation in sports fields and golf courses by the end of the year. Toro, with the bulk of its 2008 revenue of $1.9 billion generated by turf and landscape maintenance equipment and irrigation systems, is just getting started. Environmental Sensors announced its entry into the wireless sensor and software market for golf earlier this month.

In the Florida Keys, the Card Sound Golf Club installed wireless sensors in April. The club uses recycled water from reverse osmosis to irrigate the grounds. It has a high salt content, meaning that the club superintendent, Sean Anderson, must regularly have his greens flushed with fresh water.

Before the installation, Anderson said, the job required 150,000 gallons, took an hour and had to be done every two weeks.

“We have actually cut in half the amount of water we were using,” he said. “To me, it sort of shows that the sky is the limit with this technology.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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