Managing water at Paradise Valley (Ariz.) CC (shown here) is Job One for superintendent Rob Collins and his crew, much like at most golf facilities in the desert Southwest. Collins’ work will be on display during an Interactive Facility Tour at Paradise Valley during the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show. Photos courtesy of Rob Collins
By chance more than by design, water has been central to Rob Collins’ professional life since he first began pulling a full-time paycheck, albeit in two very different contexts.
A native of north-central Ohio, Collins joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school. After finishing basic training, he was sent to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, where he would spend the remainder of his enlistment as an “aerographers’s
mate second class” — basically, a weather observer.
Daily views of nothing but the vastness of the open seas can create a certain perspective about water, and it certainly did that in Collins’ case.
Fast-forward several years — past his discharge from the Navy, his work on a golf course in his hometown of Ashland, Ohio, and the agronomy degree he earned from Ohio State University — to 1995, when Collins accepted a job overseeing maintenance
at Paradise Valley (Ariz.) Country Club. From Day One, water and its role in maintaining golf courses in the Valley of the Sun became a much different part of Collins’ career than it had during his time on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
“I hadn’t really thought much about that contrast before,” says Collins, a 33-year member of GCSAA. “In my role here, though, water and water conservation have been major parts of our entire history, and that’s not different
for any golf course in this part of the world. It’s an ongoing issue and something we think about every day.”
Even so, there probably aren’t many who have thought about water and golf courses as much or as thoroughly as Collins, both in his role as the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Paradise Valley and as one of the state’s leading advocates for
the game as a reasonable and conscientious user of the resource. It’s work that has ranged from renovations at Paradise Valley that have focused on improved irrigation and turfgrass reduction to serving on the front lines of water-related discussions
between the Arizona Alliance for Golf and the Arizona Department of Water Resources as they seek common-sense regulations for the state’s commercial water users.
It’s that work and more that make Paradise Valley an ideal choice for Water Management Solutions, one of seven Interactive Facility Tours that will be among the educational offerings at the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Phoenix, Jan. 29-Feb.
“We’ve always viewed ourselves as a part of a larger community, and I hope people who come to these sessions walk away with a sense of that and the role we try to play in making our community better,” Collins says. “(Superintendents)
have a very specific skill set and a very specific knowledge set when it comes to water use. I hope this tour will open some eyes to new opportunities and ways we can use all that to help not just our golf courses, but the communities that surround
Rob Collins has overseen maintenance at Paradise Valley CC since 1995. Water-conservation efforts there have ranged from tree and turf removal to a recent project with the USGA on subsurface drip irrigation.
Collins has seen more than just the desert during his turfgrass career. After graduating from Ohio State, he spent time at courses in his home state — including a stint at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin — and spent a little more than
a year in the St. Louis area at Forest Hills Country Club. But for the last 28 years, Arizona has been home, and he’s seen all the good and the bad that come along with managing a golf course in this unique environment.
“The biggest hurdle for me — and it still challenges me today — was realizing we’re basically growing two crops here. We’re in an overseed environment, a cool-season turf environment from about November until May, then we’re
in a warm-season environment the rest of the year,” Collins says. “The concept of the transition between the two was new to me, and, honestly, it’s taken my whole career to get somewhat comfortable with that and the fact that it’s
not a pretty thing.”
Collins admits to adjusting much more quickly to managing water at a desert golf property, which requires a different kind of diligence than most other parts of the country. The amount of water available to golf courses in and around Phoenix is subject
to countless conditions and restrictions, from maximum annual water allotments based on the size and age of a facility to limits based on the total irrigated acres on the property.
Paradise Valley has been proactive in response to these kinds of challenges, not only to ensure it has access to the water needed to maintain healthy, playable conditions, but also to make sure it’s a good neighbor. Collins has overseen several
tree-removal and turf-reduction projects — most notably as part of a Coore-and-Crenshaw-led renovation in 2013 and 2014 — in an effort to keep the course’s irrigated turf acreage under a threshold that triggers a series of restrictions.
He’s also leaned into technology as a gateway to the more efficient use of water. When the club last updated its irrigation system in 2008, it sought guarantees from manufacturers that the system they were getting would meet a minimum distribution
uniformity of at least 80%. Soil-moisture readings are taken daily at Paradise Valley to minimize both over- and under-watering. And Collins is working with the USGA on a subsurface drip irrigation project on several tees, which will be featured during
the Water Management Solutions facility tour.
“We have ongoing plans related to all of this,” Collins says, “because it’s one of those things where we’re not likely to see any increases in the amount of water available to golf courses. And with the challenges we’ve
been seeing in the Colorado River Basin that have been in the news, it’s almost certain to keep decreasing. We have to be ready.”
An aerial view of the installation of Paradise Valley CC's subsurface drip irrigation system.
Shining in the spotlight
Collins’ success at making Paradise Valley a shining example of how golf can be part of the solution when it comes to water use and management has opened doors for him to serve as a leader on a broader scale. An active member of the Arizona Alliance
for Golf’s water committee, he has become a public face of sorts when it comes to communicating about golf and water with government officials, the general public and the media.
It’s not a role he campaigned for — “I’m happy to serve, but it’s not something I’ve ever sought out,” he says — but Collins says the expertise that he and other superintendents can bring to the table when
discussing these topics are keys to highlighting the game’s leadership and successes when it comes to water.
“We live in a fishbowl here; golf is literally at the back door of so many people, most of whom likely don’t play golf,” Collins says. “What I recognized is, because we’re so visible and our use of water is so visible, it
can benefit us to have a voice and explain what’s going on and what we’re doing. Superintendents are in a great position to share their knowledge and their experiences, and that only helps our cause when we do that.”
In addition to his efforts on the ground at Paradise Valley CC, Collins has also been a prominent advocate for the golf industry when it comes to water use. A member of the Arizona Alliance for Golf’s water committee, Collins has worked tirelessly to communicate about golf and water with government officials, the general public and media.
Up close and personal
The Interactive Facility Tours at CTS 2024 will take place on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 29 and 30. Attendees will have two opportunities to take part in the Water Management Solutions sessions, which are being presented by The Toro Co., with slots available
both Monday morning and afternoon.
The session will feature several stops around Paradise Valley that will showcase ongoing turfgrass trials examining the use of both zoysiagrass and TifEagle bermudagrass in desert regions, the use of subsurface drip irrigation as a way to save both water
and money, irrigation system management and soil-moisture meters, and a look at the club’s community relations efforts.
Other facility tours in Phoenix include:
- Cottonwood Country Club at Sun Lakes will play host to Launching a First Green Field Trip is Easier Than You Think on Monday morning
- Innovation in Equipment Management, presented by Foley Co., will take place at Phoenix Country Club on Monday morning and afternoon.
- Desert Highlands Golf Club will be the site of The Latest in Golf Turf Management, featuring Frank Rossi, Ph.D., on Monday afternoon.
- Course Renovations, presented by Capillary Bunkers, will be featured on Tuesday morning and afternoon at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Course.
- TPC Scottsdale, host to the annual Waste Management Open on the PGA Tour, will play host to Tournament Preparation, presented by John Deere, on Tuesday morning and afternoon.
- The Technology of Implementing BMPs, presented by Helena, will take place at Camelback Golf Club on both Tuesday morning and afternoon.
For more information on the Interactive Facility Tours at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Phoenix, visit https://bit.ly/3tpIc8T.
Scott Hollister (firstname.lastname@example.org) is GCM’s editor-in-chief.