DECATUR — Just in case the strangling drought and stifling heat aren’t problems enough, the City of Decatur’s recent water restrictions have handed a new challenge to those responsible for helping the city’s golf courses survive the summer.
The challenges are different at each of the three Decatur Park District public courses and Director of Golf Rick Anderson is working with course superintendents to find solutions while staying within the bounds of rules that place limits on the use of city water.
Anderson said Friday the most challenging situation is at Scovill Golf Club, where all of the water used to irrigate the course is provided from the city’s water supply.
On the other hand, Red Tail Run Golf Club has the benefit of three working wells on the property and arrangements have been made to dig a fourth well within the next two weeks. Use of well water is not subject to the same city water restrictions.
And at Hickory Point Golf Course on the north edge of the city, the water is supplied by Forsyth where, at this point, there is no restriction in place. “Plus they’ve actually had a couple of extra rains up there,” Anderson said.
The lack of rain and extraordinary evaporation caused by temperatures that have exceeded 90 degrees 36 days from mid-June through this week (including as many as 14 days that topped 100 degrees) has three retention ponds at Red Tail Run dropping to extremely low levels.
“We’re 48 inches low right now and that’s the lowest these ponds have been since I got here in 2009,” said Tom Mooney, Red Tail Run’s course superintendent.
Mooney knows his course ideally needs the same thing corn fields, bean fields and brown, dormant lawns all need — a slow, soaking, two-day rain.
“But right now I’d take a gully-washer just to fill my ponds up,” he said.
Anderson confirmed that some neighbors around the course called to complain that Red Tail Run was being irrigated at times currently restricted by the city. Mooney said a city worker even dropped off a complaint form and asked for a phone call.
But Mooney pointed out that the course can use water at any time as long as it’s coming from its wells, and there seems to be agreement that’s true.
Still, conservation measures have been pressed into action at all three courses. Those include:
l While greens, tees and fairways are still being irrigated, Anderson said they have ceased watering what he calls, “non-essential playing areas,” such as rough areas between holes and on the edges of fairways.
l Some sprinkler heads have been shut down to ensure there is no wasteful or unnecessary watering;
l Golf carts and maintenance machinery are not being routinely washed. Instead, “we brush them, blow them out and then dust them so their ready for the next customer,” Anderson said.
l Greens are occasionally being rolled instead of mowed to alleviate stress on the putting surface;
l Irrigation takes place mostly in the early morning and evening, when temperatures have cooled. But “syringe” watering during the heat of the day is necessary just to cool hot-spot areas that are subject to extreme stress;
l Mooney said he stopped watering the ball fields at Rotary Park two months ago and no longer waters the grass around the Red Tail Run clubhouse while restricting foot traffic there.
Aside from drought, the extreme heat causes its own set of problems, one of which is that photosynthesis ceases at extreme temperatures, which means grass uses more energy than it can produce. That stress threatens greens, tees and fairways.
Anderson said the superintendents are worried what might happen if water restrictions become tighter should the drought continue and Lake Decatur levels fall further.
“This fall we’d like to over-seed some of the fairways and seed around the collars of the greens,” Mooney said. “It’s hard to plant if you can’t keep it watered.”
But all things considered, Anderson said the courses have fared quite well.
“Our greens are excellent,” he said. “And I have no doubt they will stay that way.
“Given the heat, business has been pretty good. We were up 4,000 rounds from last year through the end of June.” Numbers through July, which ended Tuesday, were not yet available.
“We’re getting a lot of play in the mornings and in the evenings. League play is strong. I think for the most part, people have kind of gotten used to the heat.”
Anderson hopes if restrictions become tighter, the city will work with the Park District in the interest of preserving what he calls, “these community assets.”
Meanwhile, he and Mooney religiously watch the weather forecast and hope for relief.
“Personally, I’m hoping for a tropical storm that runs up from the Gulf and comes right up the Mississippi River and busts up this system and gives us rain,” Anderson said. “That might be the only way this whole cycle gets broken.”