One of the world’s oldest clubs, the current site for Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club has been home since 1892 with ‘Salt Pan’ buildings dating back to 1790, where salt was extracted by boiling sea water, and a flooded quarry that today forms a lake attracting swans, ducks, oyster catchers, herons and grebe. Although only 50 metres from the sea, the water is fresh and used for course irrigation.
John MacLachlan has been Head Greenkeeper since February 1998 and in 2019 highlighted the urgency for the almost 50-year old system to be replaced. Keeping it operational was an ongoing battle for John and his team, with regular failures, continual unplanned maintenance and pumps running at 60% efficiency.
“This is one of the driest links courses in Scotland, so straight after Covid we decided to do something. Every day we’d find burst pipes and we were watering too many areas which we just didn’t need to – such as the gorse. Since 2018 we’d used more water year on year and with irrigation just on greens, tees and fairways previously, thousands were being spent on overseeding, on top dressing and hand watering, especially roughs and semi roughs, only to see areas dry up completely in summer.”
Irrigation Consultant and EIGCA Affiliate, Giles Wardle, of Irriplan designed an all-new system with an overriding design objective of uniform and targeted irrigation coverage. He explained: “The objective for links is to maintain a healthy sward that withstands frequent mowing at low-cut height and traffic of play, which means keeping soil moisture as low as possible while maintaining turf vigour. There have been three very dry springs in the last six years which put more demands on an old system and means the greenkeeping team are playing ‘catch up’ all summer. Investing in water resourcing is a complex process with financing and system longevity now spanning multiple generations. The pipe network has a 50 year design life, hardware and rotors 25 years plus. Prestwick St Nicholas are fortunate in having an irrigation lake for fresh water storage but they installed their new system at just the right time.”
Contractor Turf Irrigation Services completed installation between January and May 2022 including a Rain Bird® IC System™ with CirrusPRO™ Central Control software. The new system was fully operational by August 2022.
Over 800 Rain Bird 752/702 rotors were installed, selected for their ability to be changed from full to part-circle operation in seconds, providing greens staff with complete flexibility regarding optimisation, reducing run-time and water consumption. A new pump house, higher-capacity pumps and larger diameter piping underground has reduced the irrigation window from 10 to 8 hours.
The greenkeeping team can now be proactive and make split-second operational adjustments. When decoders fail, a whole section or cable path can be taken out, requiring one of the team to go out on the course to find the fault location. Advanced system diagnostics now in place can immediately flag up individual rotors or valves on the system PC, or mobile device. Each Integrated Control Module (ICM) can be interrogated from the central control and the health of over 1000 ICM’s checked in 45 seconds. Replacing the previous decoder system with the most up to date technology on the market has enabled the club to manage its long term water needs and save time and labour.
John MacLachlan adds, “Rain Bird CirrusPRO™ mapping is fantastic and being Windows-based is very easy to use. For anyone looking at system renovation, don’t be shy to try what can appear to be very technical and sophisticated technology. You can select a single rotor, with one finger on your ‘phone. We can pick and choose precisely where we irrigate, and sit in the office or at home and see exactly what is happening, or if there are faults, which saves so much time. In March 2023 we built a couple of new bunkers and could set rotors specifically for those, which we couldn’t have done in the past. The new system has made a massive difference to us and is a 100% improvement on what we had. I can’t praise it enough.”
Course photos ©Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club