Below-grade components of an irrigation system can create risk management issues for a golf course.

A few months ago, I wrote about irrigation maintenance and how it can save you money and prolong the life of your irrigation system. The USGA Green Record also last fall had a feature article on developing an irrigation maintenance plan with a checklist. Many of you probably read one or both and said, yes, that sounds good, but I don’t have the time, labor or budget to do those things. You may be taking care of the obvious items like pump station maintenance, arc adjustment, nozzle replacement and your central control computer service plan, but not the smaller things like sprinkler leveling and setting valve boxes and sprinklers to grade. They may not seem important to you and no one on your staff wants to do sprinkler and valve box leveling, but you can potentially get into trouble with a lack of irrigation maintenance.

I recently was made aware of a situation where a golfer was lining up to make a putt and as they backed up from their ball, they stepped in a valve box that was recessed about 8 inches below grade. As a result, they not only fell, but severely damaged their ankle. Of course, this quickly became a lawsuit. The cause was so obvious that it did not go to court. It went right to an immediate settlement. All that’s left is how much it is going to cost. This is not the first personal injury case that has involved an irrigation system.

If you think about it, there are many aspects of an irrigation system that have inherent liability. In addition to sunken valve boxes, there are missing or broken valve box covers, sprinklers that are too high or low, sprinklers with missing or broken tops, electrical wiring, throwing water where it should not be such as on roads or off the golf course property, and sprinklers coming on without warning and hitting either players or going into carts distracting the operator.

We live in a litigious world. All you need to do is watch the ‘lawyer’ commercials on TV. As a result, you better be careful to minimize potential situations that can cause injury to members, guests, players and even staff.”

Point is, small irrigation maintenance issues may not seem like a big deal and not high on your maintenance priority list. But they need to be on your radar as tasks that need to be completed. The question is how do you accomplish these tasks with a low budget and not enough help? It is difficult. One suggestion is to set aside a chunk of a staff members time each week, say four hours, to take care of these little things. You won’t get it done quickly, but at least it will be accomplished at some point. Once you get all the boxes and sprinklers to proper grade, keeping up with them will not take near as much time. Once a month at least look to see if there are missing or broken covers so at least you can get the really bad stuff taken care of relatively quickly after it occurs. If you have many valve boxes and sprinklers that need to be addressed, then hire the work out and maintain them after that in-house.

We live in a litigious world. All you need to do is watch the “lawyer” commercials on TV. As a result, you better be careful to minimize potential situations that can cause injury to members, guests, players and even staff. One of my client was sued by a staff member because they twisted their angle in an irrigation trench that had settled. Don’t wait for something to happen, be proactive, not reactive.

Brian Vinchesi, the 2015 Irrigation Association Industry Achievement Award winner, is President of Irrigation Consulting, Inc., a golf course irrigation design and consulting firm with offices in Pepperell, Massachusetts and Huntersville, North Carolina that designs golf course irrigation systems throughout the world. He can be reached at bvinchesi@irrigationconsulting.com or 978-433-8972 or followed on twitter @bvinchesi.