Date: Wed 12 Jun 2019

Water task: EIGCA Gold Partner Rain Bird specifying and fine-tuning one of Europe’s most advanced irrigation systems

There cannot be many finer backdrops to any game of golf than at Royal Bled.

Irrigation croquet putting greens, credit Steve Chappell

Irrigation croquet putting greens, credit Steve Chappell

The majestic rise and fall of the Julian Alps give way to the picturesque tranquility of the destination’s courses, the King’s, the oldest and largest in Slovenia dating back to 1937, and the wooded Lake’s Course.

Over a three year period, the course was extended to Championship length, the greens, tees and bunkers were redesigned and reconstructed, and ten new lakes added to create a dramatically changed layout. The remastered course was revealed to the golfing world in 2017 and since then it has been under the experienced stewardship of Golf Course Superintendent Steve Chappell.

Location, location, location

Steve Chappell arrival at Royal Bled, credit Steve Chappell.

Steve Chappell arrival at Royal Bled, credit Steve Chappell.

Local specialists In-Aqua’s comprehensive water management proposal for the project covered water sourcing and lake management, in addition to irrigation system design, pumping and pH control, and central control programming with advanced weather and soil sensing features. Understanding the limited water availability and cost of water in the location was key to putting the right provision in place. Critical to them being commissioned was their capacity, in partnership with manufacturer Rain Bird, to meet the requirements, their consistent commitment to their systems, and expandability, with future development of the Lake’s Course planned.

6th, 13th, 14th, 16h and 17th Hole on the King's Course, credit Royal Bled

6th, 13th, 14th, 16h and 17th Hole on the King's Course, credit Royal Bled

North eastern Slovenia has a warm climate, with summer temperatures reaching the mid-thirties degrees Celsius. The area is prone to lightning, recorded as often as three or four days of the week, so a Rain Bird IC System was specified, which eliminates the use of satellites and decoders and provides multi-function real-time response along with powerful diagnostics and end-user control. It’s more resistant to lightning strikes, and with so many heads on the course enables a diagnostic test of the site to be conducted in three minutes – invaluable for fault detection and rectification minimising system downtime. Having it in the ground during construction also provided an invaluable way of monitoring the site, flagging up if machinery hit cables. Once the system was integral again, the contractor could move on to the next hole.

Lake dividing 14th and 16th Hole on the King's Course,  credit Royal Bled

Lake dividing 14th and 16th Hole on the King's Course, credit Royal Bled

Royal Bled pays for irrigation water and on very free-draining land more than 2,000m can be applied each night during hot spells. This, coupled with a 6mm+ per day evapo-transpiration loss, presented high stakes for Simon Connaughton who expertly managed the grow-in of cool-season creeping bentgrass greens and rye/fescue tees and approaches. Continual soil moisture readings around the greens were critical when seeding and for a successful grow-in, while valve in head sprinklers ensured accurate application.

New course characteristics

Steve's workplace,  credit In-Aqua

Steve's workplace, credit In-Aqua

A Rain Bird Stratus II Central Control system operated via PC and mobile device manages the largest Rain Bird soil sensing system in Europe. Sensors are located on each green measuring volumetric water content, soil temperature and salinity.

“Irrigation is essential for sustained plant health, and that’s my priority,” Steve Chappell explains. “2018 was an evaluation season for us, learning as much as we could from our readings to ensure optimal turf health and playability and reduce water costs. With unpredictable weather and ET rates as significant as they are here, it’s a leap of faith letting technology make those decisions. In order to fully understand the characteristics of the greens we’ve had to programme the sensors - train them, by saturating each green then draining and evaluating it, seeing how long it takes to hydrate the profile and drain it down”.

Technician, credit In-Aqua

Technician, credit In-Aqua

“I varied the placement and depth on the front 9-holes, while they’re set at a depth of 150mm and 250mm on the back 9. It’s essential that we can monitor moisture levels throughout the profile. When hand-watering, readings are very different in the top 50-70mm to those further down, hence the varied placement. Rainfall can be sporadic so the weather station and Rain Bird’s Rain Watch feature, where rainfall is measured by a rain can and deducted from the irrigation programme, ensures the course only receives what it needs.

We now know that moisture content of 13% at 50mm is optimal for performance. Below 10%, the surface is drying too much and we’re back to hand-watering. At 250mm depth, we’re aiming to keep it at 15%. The sensors keep us at that optimal point.

Data feeds into my course management reports, detailing our water needs and usage. It also helps with other turf management decisions, such as when to apply nutrients when coming out of winter.”

Collaborative working

“In-Aqua also suggested innovative solutions to other water management challenges”, Steve adds. “The installation of a bunker liner meant we weren’t keeping enough moisture on the face of the sand in the bunker. We originally looked at misting heads, but they suggested using Rain Bird’s XFS subsurface dripline run at low pressure during the day. It worked really well on six we trialed that weren’t covered by fairway irrigation, so we’ll be rolling it out across the course. We’re also looking into the use of dripline to reduce hand-watering in high traffic and seeded areas.

Some of the simplest features are the most helpful, like hand watering plug-in points next to the greens. They caught my eye at Medina during the 2012 Ryder Cup. With back to back sprinklers, we just lift the cover, plug the hose in, and turn. It’s simple, quick and very tidy.”

Looking ahead

“I’m looking to add maps to our mobile interface for ease of sprinkler testing, and add IC Connect to our system, enabling us to receive data from different sensors across the site in real-time, then monitor and control of all aspects of the systems on both courses from one Central Control.

Modern course management requires us to combine our knowledge and expertise with the new technologies. It’s exciting and gives us new opportunities to learn, adapt, improve, share and collaborate for everyone’s benefit.”

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