Water and Salinity Challenges in a Desert Climate at Angel Park Golf Club, Las Vegas: A CASE STUDY

Introduction

In October 2017, we were fortunate to get the chance to speak with Jeremy Adkins, regional superintendent for OB Sports Golf Management at Angel Park Golf Club in Las Vegas.

Angel Park has two 18-hole championship courses: a fully night-lighted 12-hole par 3 course, and a 9-hole natural grass putting course, also lit for night play. The club is one of the finest properties in Las Vegas.

But as a golf course in the desert, maintaining high-performing turf is not without challenges. Our first question to Jeremy is, of course, “what are your biggest challenges?”

“A lot of people ask me my thoughts about POGO and I just tell them directly that in the last 25 or 30 years there have been two products that have changed our industry for the better…one being Primo®, and the other being POGO.”

Jeremy Adkins
Regional Superintendent
OB Sports Golf Management, Angel Park Golf Club

Challenge 1: Water Use Efficiency

“Using water efficiently and responsibly” he replies directly, without hesitation. He stresses that water is a huge issue in Nevada, no doubt due to the city being situated in the middle of the greater Mojave Desert.

Jeremy states that the biggest challenge he expects to face in the future will be potential water restrictions and government water use regulations. It’s one of the main reasons he’s using the POGO system currently. “When the time comes and we have to defend our use of water, we’ll have years of data showing that we’re responsible water users, and not wasting it.”

“Using water efficiently and responsibly” he replies directly, without hesitation. He stresses that water is a huge issue in Nevada, no doubt due to the city being situated in the middle of the greater Mojave Desert.

Jeremy states that the biggest challenge he expects to face in the future will be potential water restrictions and government water use regulations. It’s one of the main reasons he’s using the POGO system currently. “When the time comes and we have to defend our use of water, we’ll have years of data showing that we’re responsible water users, and not wasting it.”

Challenge 2: Effluent Water

“With using effluent water, we’re dealing with a lot of salts—bicarbonates and nitrates—on a daily basis. Every time we turn a sprinkler on, we’re applying a certain amount of nitrogen, and that obviously greatly affects our fertility program”.

Effluent (recycled) water contains a lot of salts, but Nevada water has especially high salinity because the Colorado River is high in salts to begin with, and recycling nearly doubles their concentration.

Challenge 3: Labor Shortages

“We just can’t find labor…everybody across the valley right now is struggling.” His current staff is short by 5 workers. “People come in the door to apply for a job…they see what the job is and what it pays, and they’re like ‘nah, I’m not going to do that’. It seems to be the case not only here in Vegas but around the country…when construction is good, it’s tough for us to get employees. It all kind of goes with the economy.”

Solution? POGO.

Jeremy purchased a POGO during his first year working at the club. He currently owns three units, and is an active user of the POGO Turf Pro Cloud software for automatic analysis and insight. He plans to buy 2 or 3 additional POGO Pro units, as he believes his team needs 5 or 6 in order to implement the system across all 4 courses and gather enough data daily to reach his water use and staff efficiency goals.

Jeremy tells us how he uses POGO to sample, log and analyze the moisture and salinity of his turf. “We’ll get out and do our sampling in the first 2 to 3 hours on the greens in the morning” . In a 6,000 sq. ft. green they take about 18 to 25 samples, which takes about 3-6 minutes.

Jeremy has been doing this daily turf measurement and analysis routine for just under a year, so we ask him what benefits he’s gained so far.

“I think the biggest thing for us is the color-coding on the maps… it’s relatable to everybody on the crew. So while there are only 4 or 5 guys here that really understand the numbers, everybody can understand that red needs water, or red needs aerifying.”

Benefit 1: More Efficient Communication Among Staff

“I have a couple of old smartphones that we use strictly for POGO, so they can take them with them. We’ll also pull the Visual Insight up on the computer in the assistant’s office, so they can look at it any time. All of our assistants know how to use it. We give it to our setup guys while they’re out there cutting cups. They start asking what numbers we’re looking for and what do the numbers mean. They take an interest in it, and they eventually take ownership of it . It’s nice—it makes them feel more involved, and ‘in the know’ of what’s going on and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Even with no prior knowledge of agronomy principles, all staff can benefit from POGO’s scientific analysis, by being able to see what the turf sees, and having the information presented in a simple, graphical way.

Jeremy believes that POGO’s unique Visual In- sight, which shows trouble spots with a color-coded illustration superimposed on a satellite image of his course, is a breakthrough in communication efficiency. “I think the biggest thing for us is the color-coding on the maps… it’s relatable to everybody on the crew. So while there’s only 4 or 5 guys here that really understand the numbers, everybody can understand that red needs water, or red needs aerifying.”

Benefit 2: Ability to Predict Problems and Prevent Them Before They Begin

“Using the POGO allows us to see what is underneath the turf, versus just looking at an area and seeing that it’s thin, knowing that something’s wrong but not knowing what it is.” Jeremy logs into POGO Turf Pro Cloud and pulls up a trend chart for the hole #8 on the Angel Park Mountain Course, tracking moisture, EC and temperature over the last 6 months.

“Using the POGO allows us to see what is underneath the turf, versus just looking at an area and seeing that it’s thin, knowing that something’s wrong but not knowing what it is.”

Jeremy explains how this report helped ensure top conditions for a corporate event the past summer. He used to do flushing on a calendar-based frequency, but the trend report showed salinity trending such that it would reach 1.0 dS/m right before the event. Had he waited until the next scheduled flushing, the irrigation applied just before the event would likely not have been effective due to the high salinity (and the string of hot, dry days the Las Vegas area experienced at the same time). By performing the flushing in advance of the event, the conditions were perfect, and without any extra irrigation needed. “With POGO, it gives us the insight ahead of time to do what we need to resolve the issue before we see it.”

Moving Up From TDR Soil Probes

Jeremy has become a huge believer in using science-based insight to power the decisions he makes on turf management. As recently as two years ago he explains “we were going out with TDR soil probes, feeling the moisture in the soil, and believing the turf was getting what it needs. Now that we can correlate numbers with the conditions we see in the field, and actually predict what percentage of moisture we need, it’s a more efficient way for us to water, and provides much better playing conditions for our customers.”

Jeremy motions to an old hand-drawn paper with all 18 greens of the Palm course sketched, each divided into multiple areas. “We used a small Spectrum TDR meter, which is basically just a soil probe.” He would take soil readings with the moisture probe, and manually record the readings to share with the rest of his team.

“Before we had the Visual Insight, we had printed out our own maps of the greens, and we’d section it off into 7, 8 or 9 zones, depending on the size. Then we’d actually write the [moisture] percentages in.”

“But obviously [POGO] is so much more advanced and easier to manage, versus someone’s handwriting where sometimes you can read it, and sometimes you can’t.”

Jeremy explains that his multiple TDR moisture sensors would often give different results in similar conditions, leading to him continually guessing as to the true moisture content, although he admits that he never calibrated his sensors. It didn’t take long for him to note the difference with POGO’s precision, and he appreciates knowing that this extreme precision is not dependent on any calibration.

Benefit 3: All Data is Logged and Analyzed Automatically. No Manual Recording, No Need to Interpret Data

Data is so quick and easy to capture, that Jeremy’s team can capture more data than they used to. But there’s a big difference between data and actionable information.

Because it uses a smartphone or tablet as the user interface, they can take advantage of instant analysis after each sample, rather than just numbers on a small, black-and-white text-based LCD display.

Once data is automatically uploaded to POGO Turf Pro Cloud, Jeremy’s team can see the performance of the turf on all courses visually, and can predict potential turf decline with trend reports of moisture, salinity and salinity index.

“With Visual Insight, it’s all done, so there’s labor savings on that side…but it’s also allowed us to be more consistent, take more samples from each green, to get a better snapshot of what’s actually going on.

“Now that we can correlate numbers with the conditions we see in the field, and actually predict what percentage of moisture we need, it’s a more efficient way for us to water, and provides much better playing conditions for our customers.”

Benefit 4: Use POGO’s Analysis to Apply Aerification Only When Needed

“Before I had POGO, we would needle-tine the greens every 30 days, whereas with POGO having the numbers and putting a science to it we’ve been able to stretch that out to sometimes 6 or even 7 weeks, which saves on labor, and I still know I’m doing the right thing for the turf. We were able to reduce our water usage on a nightly basis, and also reduce it by having fewer flushing throughout the year, and produce better playing surfaces for our guests.”

Jeremy occasionally ends up working with people who are used to using TDR soil probes and are skeptical of the value of a more advanced
system like POGO. “We’ll go out with the soil probe and we’ll do it the old-fashioned way, and after he looks at the sample reading I ask him to tell me how much water he would put on it. Then we pull out the POGO and take a sample in that exact spot, and the majority of the time it doesn’t need any water.”

“Before I had POGO, we would needle-tine the greens every 30 days, whereas with POGO having the numbers and putting a science to it we’ve been able to stretch that out to sometimes 6 or even 7 weeks.”

His staff is learning the benefits of managing a course using lots of accurate scientific data, and Jeremy is hopeful that some of his staff, who may one day become superintendents, will carry forward the idea that it’s not difficult to be environmentally responsible, no matter what climate you’re in.

“It really shows them why we do what we do. When we just used to use the soil probes, it was normal for them to over-water in the morning, so they wouldn’t have to come back later and add more water, dragging the hose out of the cart again. With POGO a lot of times they don’t even have to pull the hose out in the morning, because we can see we’re already at our target number.”

Visual Insight in POGO Turf Pro Cloud

Benefit 5: Reduce Hand Watering by 70%

One of the most significant results Jeremy first realized was a dramatic reduction in hand-watering, saving him both labor and water consumption. POGO’s Visual Insight performs the analysis of the data for him, and provides an easy-to-follow prescription of exactly where spot treatment is (and isn’t) needed. “When we do our samples I can print out the color-coded map and hand it to our hand waterers, and they know only to water the red spots on the map. So it’s cut our hand watering close to 70%. Instead of going to check every green, they can just go to the 6 or 7 greens that we know need the supplemental irrigation.”

“Instead of going to check every green, they can just go to the 6 or 7 greens that we know need the supplemental irrigation.”

Benefit #6: An Increase in Water Use Efficiency

Turns out that even years of experience is still no match for scientific analysis of data—measurements of all four of the most influential variables governing turf performance. It’s simply not enough to just measure moisture.

“The biggest learning for me, from what we’ve done so far, is that the greens don’t actually dry out as much, or as quick, as I thought they did. So from that perspective, we’re using water more efficiently, as we’re only applying when we know it absolutely needs it. We’re able to extend our days when we don’t water, so we’re saving water, and being more responsible.”

Benefit 7: Location- Aware Data Makes it Easy to Target Trouble Spots, While Not Wasting Time on Areas That Don’t Need It

POGO’s Visual Insight is the most important feature of the system for both Jeremy and his staff, as no one has the time to perform analysis of data, especially the large volume of data that is being measured every day.

“The maps with the color-coding really helps us—it shows traffic patterns, especially on the
walk ons and walk offs of the greens. So if we don’t have time to needle-tine the entire green, we can take the map and I can give it to one of my guys with an aerifier and he can just hit those high-traffic areas. So we’re able to create better conditions, with less labor being used.”

“I expect to cut our water use on fairways by probably 15 to 20 percent. When you’re using as much water as we do here, that’s a lot of dollars that’s going to go to the bottom line.”

Jeremy summarizes his strategy for making the best decisions for managing his turf: “I like looking at the trends—it helps me to plan aerification and flushing, versus just going by the calendar. More science, versus ‘what we’ve always done’, which I think is the worst term in the golf industry.”

A Summary of Jeremy’s Experience With POGO

After using POGO for just over a year, Jeremy has:

  • Prevented problems by predicting their occurrence
  • Reduced hand watering by 70%
  • Increased his staff’s efficiency by knowing exactly where to target their efforts
  • Increased the efficiency of team communication and overall water usage

So Where Does He Go From Here?

“We’ll formulate our program on the greens. We’ll eventually carry that over, once we get it dialled in and understand exactly what all the numbers mean, we’ll transition that to our tees, and to our fairways. We know in our fairways is where we’ll see the biggest water savings, as it’s the greatest amount of area. I expect to cut our water use on fairways by probably 15 to 20 percent. When you’re using as much water as we do here, that’s a lot of dollars that’s going to go to the bottom line.”

Final Words

“A lot of people ask me my thoughts about POGO and I just tell them directly that in the last 25 or 30 years there have been two products that have changed our industry for the better…one being (Syngenta’s) Primo®, and the other being POGO.” ◼

VIDEO

Angel Park Case Study

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