The industry is always talking about water savings, but how to get there can be elusive for some courses. I have preached lots of different ways of saving water over the years, including accurate databases, uniformity, sprinklers level and at grade, proper scheduling, and having more sprinklers. Recently, I visited Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas, where superintendent Tim Cloninger and irrigation manager Carlos Duran have reduced their water use by about 25 percent. In quizzing Tim and Carlos about how they saved that much water, I learned of a new water savings technique that I had never given much thought to – programs.

Today’s golf course central control systems are powerful and therefore very sophisticated. We all know that, but as a result many golf courses do not use their central control systems to the majority of their abilities. However, everyone builds programs for their irrigation system – if they did not, the irrigation system would never run. So, you’re saying, I do programs, what’s the big deal? How does that save me water?

When you look at a central control database, there are normally programs for greens, tees and fairways at a minimum with maybe some other programs for green surrounds, rough and bunkers. On some courses, you will see it further broken down into back nine fairways, front nine fairways, front nine greens, back nine greens, front nine tees, back nine tees. This allows the operator at a minimum to set separate start times for each program and to prioritize them as well as decide whether they should run on a certain night or not. But why stop there?

When you look at the Shadow Creek database, they have concentrated on developing programs for their more out of play areas where they can and have saved substantial amounts of water. They have thought about how often each area of the golf course needs to be irrigated and then developed programs for each area accordingly, grouping like areas and schedules into very specific programs. In addition to the usual programs, they also have programs for native areas, drought tolerant areas, fescue areas, pine needle beds, mulch beds and tree drip; all of which are operated on different schedules.

As it turns out, just like the more sprinklers you have, the more programs you create, the more versatile the operation of your irrigation system can be. For example, if you have native or natural areas that need to be irrigated only a few times a month or a few times a week, there should be a program just for those areas and their schedule. Trees are another good example. In most cases, you would water the trees infrequently and deep so they need their own program. The trees may be drip irrigation, different than other types of irrigation on your course and that alone would dictate a separate program. You can expand your programs almost as much as your imagination; plant beds should have their own program as well as mulched areas with sparse plantings or trees vs. mulched areas with intensive plantings.

Sun areas vs. shade areas are another parameter to consider. Even though the back nine rough is all on the back nine and in the rough, it doesn’t mean there are not areas that are in full sun and others in full shade or shaded the majority of the time. This is helpful on tees where the front is sunny and the back is shady. These areas have different water requirements so they should have different schedules/programs. Some would say that you can do the same thing with station or global adjusts, but that is not as versatile as a separate program.

All of your various program areas should be broken into front nine/back nine programs or similar for a couple of reasons. One, the hydraulics of your pumping system will perform better if the water is more targeted – of course that requires a filled-out hydraulic piping tree in your database. Secondly, you can prioritize and dictate when an area gets watered. If you want to stay ahead of morning play, it will be hard to do if all 18 fairways are on one program. Front holes may still be irrigating when your maintenance staff is going out or play is starting. Other programs to think about are front green sprinklers vs. back green sprinklers. On triple-row or five-row systems (ins and outs on the fairways) it is common to see in the central control database left side fairways (ins and outs separate programs), right side fairways (ins and outs separate programs) and center fairways.

Think about how the various areas of your golf course need to be irrigated. Will separating an area into multiple programs allow you more versatility in scheduling? If it will, then water savings are to be had, just like they have at Shadow Creek.

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 or 978-433-8972 or followed on twitter @bvinchesi.