The first course in Sweden to install a Rain Bird IC System™, a decade on, Course Manager Stefan Ljungdahl reflects on the system’s performance and its impact on sustainable water management.
Back in 1935 Halmstad Golf Club began the construction of a new golf course to the west of the city centre in the Tylösand seaside area. Designed by Rafael Sundblom, much of the ground clearing work was completed by hand, providing employment for young men after the Great Depression at a time when jobs were scarce. With a club house designed by Swedish architect Hakon Ahlberg, the 18-hole parkland course was approved by the Swedish Golf Federation and opened in 1938. Nils Sköld designed nine more holes in the late 60’s followed by nine more in 1975 by British golf course architect Frank Pennink. The resulting 36-hole facility has since played host to many tournaments including the 2007 Solheim Cup and forthcoming Volvo Car Scandinavian Mixed 2022.
With wide fairways and gently undulating greens, the longer North Course has always ranked among Sweden’s top golf courses with a reputation for being both demanding and inspiring. The narrower South Course has two loops of nine holes, both starting and finishing next to the Club House.
Course Manager Stefan Ljungdahl joined Halmstad Golf Club in 2011 as the 2010-2011 system renovation was completed on South and North courses. Before renovation, irrigation with the old system was slow requiring a member of the greenkeeping team’s attention eight hours, every day. There simply wasn’t the pump capacity to draw sufficient water and it was a time-consuming process. To improve that, two new pump stations were installed as part of the renovation along with a Rain Bird IC System™ launched a decade ago, beckoning in a new era of irrigation technology.
Stefan explains, “Wherever I’ve worked, I’ve had Rain Bird systems. Rain Bird is a good partner and while we had some initial issues, they worked with us to resolve these. It is a long-term relationship over the 25-30-year system lifespan so reliability is very important – it simply has to work. We have about 1900 Rain Bird valve in head rotors (sprinklers). What we have are easily maintained and it’s very easy to find where there is a problem. Having a modern system with good capacity is essential so we can invest our time in what really counts.
Having a shorter irrigation window has become even more important over recent years. Golfers today are playing from 6am up to about 10.30pm in the light evenings, making far less time available for irrigation. We’re using sensors on the driest greens and moisture meters. These allow us to assess exactly what we need in different areas and the system enables us to make small adjustments so that we apply just the right amount. We may need to reduce watering to achieve a harder and drier tournament standard surface and then irrigate more to return to a surface that suits ‘everyday’ golf.
There are now three people in our current 25-person greenkeeping team specifically trained to use the irrigation system and they find the technology easy to use, but everyone in our team is involved in some way in irrigation.
In Sweden, there are natural lakes and streams to pump water from, so surface water is generally plentiful and cheap. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen the climate change with winters becoming milder and with more extreme wet weather. In 2018 we had a very dry year and we completely ran out of water for a couple of weeks and learnt from that. The last two years have been dry too, so we’re having to think hard about how to further improve our water capacity and management during long, dry periods.
Halmstad is located in one of Sweden’s Water Protection Areas, established by local authorities to protect drinking water sources from activities and land use which could adversely affect water quality or quantity. When householders can’t water their gardens yet see our irrigation on, they think we’re watering with drinking water, which we are not, but they may not realise that. We are very conscious of our responsibility to inform those around us when the eyes of the public and the municipality are on us. While there’s a stream running through the course which we rely on for irrigation, that source is vulnerable and if there’s an issue upstream, it could easily affect and have a negative impact on our water source. There’s no doubt that we’re going to need more water storage and to increase water efficiency on site further”.
Stefan estimates that the return on investment has saved around 25-30% of the water budget annually, as well as time saved in not having to solve problems.
Anders Stålberg at KSAB, Rain Bird’s distributor in Sweden adds,
“The system at Halmstad has worked extremely well for eleven years, which demonstrates the operational reliability of IC and which guarantees a minimum of time is spent on maintenance and troubleshooting. Another great benefit has been the feature that allows the user to activate an unlimited number of stations at the same time - perfect for working with valve-in-head rotors on tees, providing just the right pump capacity to limit the number of rotors working simultaneously. At Halmstad they activate about 110 tee rotors at the same time, which really helps to reduce the irrigation window.
And what about the next ten years?
The need for change and irrigation efficiency will become even more pressing for many more courses as the climate warms and systems become older and inefficient.
Anders explains, “Most courses in Sweden are still running very old irrigation systems with lengthy irrigation windows and vulnerable main pipes which forces staff to spend a lot of time and effort on irrigation. Climate change makes it even more important to reduce irrigation windows and reduce the amount of water volume used each year. There is a significant number of Rain Bird decoder courses, so the hybrid feature that makes it possible to run IC and Rain Bird decoders through one central control offers golf courses that need renovation the opportunity to implement an IC System™. It’s easy to renovate in 2 or 3 phases, and still use the same central control for the entire course. Today we have 7-8 hybrid courses in Sweden and more are sure to follow”.
Read more about Rain Bird here.