Golf courses turn to water technology

View from the 18th tee after construction of a stormwater pond on the Oneka Ridge Golf Course in Hugo. Photo courtesy of the Rice Creek Watershed District.

 

Two stormwater reuse projects at golf courses in the northeastern Twin Cities suburbs led me to seek out a University of Minnesota turf expert to find out how much potential there might be for this type of project elsewhere.

“I think there’s huge potential for that,” Brian Horgan, a professor of horticulture science, said of collecting stormwater and piping it through a golf course’s irrigation system.

But building a pond and connecting it to a stormwater drainage system from a road or other source isn’t cheap. The project at Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury cost roughly $750,000, and the budget for the project at the Oneka Ridge Golf Course in Hugo was about $630,000. Government money paid for the bulk of both projects because they provided solutions for getting rid of excess stormwater while also having the potential to reduce groundwater pumping. But not all local governments have the money or are willing to spend it on such projects.

So Horgan said the first step many Minnesota golf courses have already taken is to look at how their current water use can be optimized.

“We have the ability to know how much water is in that soil and how much soil water that plant can extract and utilize for their growth,” Horgan said. “It’s not about how many minutes of time (golf courses) should be applying the water but how much depth of water is required to fill back up that soil reservoir.”

The goal, Horgan said, is to give the turf just a little less water than it’s asking for to encourage strong root systems. The same holds true of your house plants — they’ll grow better if you don’t overwater.

And there’s another innovation University of Minnesota researchers are studying: using different species of grass that need less water.

Horgan and others plan to take research on stormwater reuse, irrigation practices and grass species to a new level with a project called Science of the Green. They plan to use the University of Minnesota’s Les Bolstad Golf Course, which is already slated for renovation, as a living laboratory to study best practices for golf courses.

“Our golf community is really eager to find solutions but manage their golf courses in a way that continues to have economic viability for the golf property itself but also to find and define the ancillary benefits to the environment,” Horgan said.