Irrigation Smarts Tee Up Savings

November 1, 2006 By: Tom Kevan Sensors

Wireless technology moves sensors to the greens and fairways of leading golf courses, and enables substantial cost savings.

The growing demand for developed property is paralleled by the increasing need for irrigation. In reaction to these trends, local jurisdictions place tighter restrictions on water usage, and the cost of irrigation becomes significant. To reduce the cost of maintaining award-winning greens and fairways, Desert Mountain—a collection of six championship golf courses in the high Sonoran Desert north of Scottsdale, AZ—decided to install a wireless sensor network to take the guesswork out of turf management. With the aid of RF-enabled sensors, the club's director of agronomy, Shawn Emerson, has been able to reduce irrigation costs by 15%–20% and upgrade maintenance practices.

The Application

Emerson's primary job is to maintain healthy turf throughout the 1200 acres that make up the club's six golf courses. Until recently, he accomplished this by following old-school practices that relied on training, instinct, and the use of timers and clocks to regulate the courses' irrigation system. But as the cost of water increased to $150,000 per course each year, Emerson sought a more efficient way of controlling the irrigation process. In so doing, he turned to Advanced Sensor Technologies (AST), provider of a newly developed water management conservation technology based on wireless mesh networking and sensing devices customized for golf courses.

The premise of AST's business and technology is to control moisture in the soil profile. "Through the process of working with turf managers and irrigation companies, it became clear to us that having a smart irrigation control system is the wave of the future. We learned through the agronomy team in our company that the best way to make an irrigation decision is through what is going on in the soil. That is when we came up with the premise of a soil-monitoring system that measures moisture, salinity, and temperature levels," says Walt Norley, president and CEO of AST.

Although the use of sensors on golf courses is not new, AST had to develop technology to correct shortcomings of the past. "Historically, sensors have been around the golf business and the irrigated turf world for 20 years," says Norley. "Unfortunately, in the past most sensors were not precise or reliable enough. If you wanted something reliable and precise, you had to pay an extreme amount of money, and the market wasn't willing to do that. Our sensors are specifically calibrated for the turf that we are installing them in.


"The most important thing that we are trying to do is quantify our decision-making process about moisture in the ground," says Emerson. "Instead of using visual monitors, we decided we wanted to quantify everything that we were doing moisturewise."

Because Desert Mountain uses effluent water, Emerson and AST also used salinity sensors to monitor the total dissolved solids, the residual minerals dissolved in water that remain after evaporation of a solution. With sodium, or salts, in the water, irrigation can actually damage plants.

Finally, the application called for the use of temperature sensors to monitor the surface of the greens or fairways to determine the stress the turf is under at certain times of the day or year.

In addition to better irrigation control, the use of these three types of sensors enables Emerson to practice preventive maintenance. "There are certain diseases and environmental stresses that happen under certain parameters, and that's what the sensors can help you predict," says Emerson. "The objective is to predict things sooner than later because it's usually cheaper and more effective to practice preventive maintenance than curative maintenance. Most chemicals and amendments cost more to use in curative procedures than in preventive practices."

Adjusted Practices

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