Turkey Creek Golf Club in Lincoln, Calif., unfolds within rolling oak woodlands and forested areas. The 18-hole course was designed by Brad Bell and opened in 1999. Photo courtesy of Turkey Creek Golf Club
Superintendents at golf courses big and small, from community links to PGA Tour sites, are searching for solutions to the climbing costs of labor. Cut back on maintenance? Invest in new technologies that would decrease man-hours and, ideally, lead to savings? Two superintendents nearly 3,000 miles apart have found a common remedy that not only helps them tackle their labor issues, but also offers benefits to their turf: a new injection system that uses irrigation lines to apply a range of products, replacing spray rigs and the associated labor, fuel and maintenance expenses.
Industry analysts report that up to 2,000 man-hours per year (about 40 hours per week) can be saved via an automated injection system that applies soil amendments, wetting agents, fertilizers, organics and other similar products. At a rate of $14 to $18 per man-hour, that can add up to substantial savings annually. Along with slashing labor, the automated application of specialty agents typically improves turf health, because products can be injected in precise, consistent doses. Additionally, risks from the over-application of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, calcium treatments and the like can be reduced. Traditional spreading and spraying do not always ensure even application of such products, and over- or under-application can have negative environmental impacts, such as runoff or leaching into water tables.
Arron McCurdy, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Metedeconk National Golf Club in Jackson, N.J., relies on his course’s injection system, the Flo-Pro Injector from Underhill International, for daily applications of wetting agents. Metedeconk is located in the pinelands of upper New Jersey, about an hour from both Philadelphia and New York City. A private 27-hole facility, it was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Roger Rulewich, who were inspired by the natural terrain and its varied topography. The three nines wind through a wilderness of forest and marshlands with abundant wildlife.
“It’s a beautiful natural environment, but we have serious soil issues,” says McCurdy, a seven-year member of GCSAA. “The course ranges over 700 acres with a mix of soil types, but most of it is very fine and dry native masonry sand not conducive to moving water. There’s also foreign hard clay brought in during construction. We apply wetting agents daily as we irrigate to keep the course looking its best, with a fast and firm surface.”
Metedeconk draws water from two wells and then routes it to a holding pond where it undergoes mechanical agitation to remove organic material. The resulting water is then pulled into the injection system’s tanks using pressure differential, and is uniformly blended with a wetting agent for distribution. This uniform mixing makes absorbing the product easier for turf, as the product can penetrate both leaves and roots simultaneously.
McCurdy had inherited an aging injection system at Metedeconk that was so expensive to repair that he opted for a new one at lower cost. His crew installed the 86-gallon tank in 2015, and he describes the system as “foolproof,” with no moving parts and allowing for virtually no possibility of human error. “My senior assistants set it up each day,” McCurdy says. “I figure we save at least 12 man-hours per week by using the automated injector rather than spraying.”
Less work, greater accuracy
Michael Kaveney, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Turkey Creek Golf Club, a popular public course in Lincoln, Calif., has stepped up his wetting agent regimen with an injection system of his own (also Underhill’s Flo-Pro). He applies product via the system every three weeks.
Turkey Creek, a privately owned 18-hole course managed by ClubCorp, was designed by Brad Bell and opened in 1999. It features rolling oak woodlands on the front nine and forested areas on the back nine, complete with flocks of resident wild turkeys. “Our course has firm soil with heavy clays and decomposed granite, so it’s a given that we apply wetting agents to move water down to the root zones,” says Kaveney, a 27-year GCSAA member.
“We fill up the (Flo-Pro) tank with product and run the irrigation system in the evening — 1,900 gallons per minute for five to six hours over three nights,” Kaveney explains. “While the course is being irrigated, the wetting agent is injected into the system at the same time. This saves us at least 15 to 20 work hours per month, and it’s the easiest system I’ve ever used.”
Kaveney found that older injection system pumps required electrical connections, calibration and regular maintenance, along with pre-mixing and heavy dilution of products to be injected, all of which are not necessary with his current setup. His new system also allows for “micro dousing” — the application of smaller amounts of product over longer periods of time, which helps increase application accuracy and boost absorption rates. “Older systems would provide a high concentration initially and then less as the material in the tank was drawn down,” he says. While Kaveney relies on his injection system for wetting agents and amendments, he uses a hand-held sprayer to apply fertilizer to tees and greens for more targeted administration.
New and improved
Industry experts estimate that just 25 to 30 percent of U.S. golf courses have injection systems, with the biggest barrier to wider adoption being price. Older systems typically cost $15,000 to $30,000 and required technical assistance to set up and maintain. Advanced technology, however, has driven down the cost of newer systems, typically to less than $10,000, and the modern versions need only a couple of hours for installation. Many superintendents with newer injection systems report that the systems pay for themselves within one year.
Unlike their older counterparts, which required multiple steps to operate, newer injection systems take very little time to get ready to run. Simply add the turf care product to the tank, dial in the rate and run time, and let the irrigation lines do the rest. As for maintenance, newer injection systems typically drain each time they are filled, dispelling any debris, and the screens automatically back-flush. Clogging is rare; if water can pass through the sprinkler heads, the heads will work with a newer injection system. To handle occasional calcium buildup, cleaning products may be injected and flushed through.
Nancy Hardwick is the owner of Hardwick Creative Services, based in Encinitas, Calif.