Las Vegas Researcher to Seek Ways to Save Golf Courses, Water

A UNLV researcher has begun a two-year study to study the variables of irrigation practices at a Las Vegas golf course. The project will hopefully determine how best to keep area golf courses green, while optimizing the effectiveness of the water put on them.

Dale Deavitt and his colleagues began the program in December 2005 at Black Mountain Golf and Country Club. With the help of both sophisticated and primitive tools, the study is looking at irrigation levels, the cutting height of the blades of grass, fertilizer effectiveness and the use of “growth regulators,” which actually stunt the growth of plants, or at least put their growth in a holding pattern.

Deavitt’s team has buried 48 pairs of moisture and salinity sensors in Black Mountain’s fairways. In addition, plastic buckets have been placed around the course to capture irrigation water. Lawn mowers have been fitted with both global positioning satellites to determine position on the golf fairways and greens, and sensing equipment to determine the turf’s health.

The researcher said his efforts are intended to not only assist golf course superintendents in the Las Vegas area, but turf-tenders throughout the desert Southwest, particularly in Arizona and California. Golf courses are not the only facilities that may benefit from the study; others with an interest in growing grass - such as park operators and school systems with athletic fields - might gain insight into the appropriate mix of variables.

The study should help an industry that, although generating millions of dollars in annual revenue in Las Vegas, is getting squeezed by water regulators. New rules have cut water use in Clark County, one of the fastest-growing areas in the U.S. but one with limited water supplies.

“What we’re basically doing is trying to help the golf industry,” Deavitt told Launce Rake of the Las Vegas Sun. “The golf resort industry is an integral part of the Las Vegas experience. One of every 25 visitors to Las Vegas comes here to play. They generate $250 million a year just in green fees. The also rent hotel rooms and play in the casinos, so the actual impact to the community is much, much larger.”

But, Deavitt adds, golf course operators are facing a tougher business environment as regional water distributors are raising the price of water and asking the facilities to get by with less of it.

“We want to make our golf courses the most water-efficient in the United States,” Deavitt said. “Golf courses have a place here, but they need to be as efficient as possible. We’re providing the management tools. We’re trying to move the golf course industry into the 21st century.”

No total cost has been associated with Deavitt’s study, but it has gotten the attention of some companies in the golf industry. The Minnesota-based Toro Company built the special mower for the project, and Nebraska-based LiCor Corp. contributed the sophisticated measuring equipment.

The technology housed in Toro’s mower will provide real-time information on the health of the turf as it cuts the grass. “As the individual goes out and mows the turf, he’s collecting data, even if he doesn’t know it,” Deavitt told Rake.

The research project has received backing by the National Golf Course Owners Association and its Nevada chapter. According to Ted Tylman, executive director of the Nevada Golf Course Owners Association, all golf courses in and around Clark County are removing turf and cutting back on their water usage. But finding the balance between keeping the turf green and conserving water can be tricky.

While trying to find that balance, golf course owners are also in the business of making a profit. Proper turf management and cost control will benefit both the golfers and the owners. In addition, if golf course proprietors show they’re doing their utmost to conserve water, positive publicity will ensue as they’ll be minimizing water waste during a time of drought and growing water demand.

Tylman, for one, is looking forward to the results of Deavitt’s research. “It would allow us to know what the bottom line is before we totally lose turf,” he told Rake. “I’m sure there are courses that are putting water where we really don’t need it, and fertilizer and such, too.”

Stan Spraul, president of the Nevada owners association, is another keeping a keen eye on the project. “It will be another tool for course superintendents to have to become the best water managers in the state and in the country,” he said.