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Methods for Raising Sprinkler Heads

September 23, 2010

John Newton, CGCS, Veenker Memorial Golf Course is interested if anyone has a good method for raising sprinkler heads. If anyone has an alternative procedure beyond the traditional method of digging the head down to the swing joint, please share your thoughts by leaving a comment at the end of this post.

John’s question immediately made me think of the LeveLift system. I first learned of the LeveLift device during a presentation from one of our students who had interned at a golf course that had one. It’s definitely work checking out If you have never seen it before. The LeveLift was developed by a former golf course Superintendent. The device uses the water pressure from the irrigation system to lift the sprinkler head into a level position. You can see a video of the LeveLift system in action by clicking here.


New Turfgrass Disease Culprits

August 30, 2010

This article comes to us from David Maubach, Senior Sales Specialist, BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals.

The presence of several new turfgrass diseases has increased on U.S. golf courses in recent years. Three new diseases in particular – Pythium root dysfunction, brown ring patch and rapid blight – are a challenge for course superintendents. Fortunately, researchers have made headway regarding how to detect and treat these destructive new diseases.

Tackling New Diseases
New turfgrass diseases can evolve for a number of reasons and several factors contribute to the prevalence of disease such as geography, moisture and temperature.

Stress caused by heat, drought and excess moisture can weaken turf and make it more prone to disease. Put simply, healthy turf is less susceptible to disease. The challenge with golf courses, particularly on the greens, is that turfgrass is kept short by plant growth regulators and/or frequent mowing, which causes stress.

Players expect superintendents to provide the best of both worlds – short grass and healthy turf. It is a difficult balance, especially when new diseases emerge and superintendents do not know how to treat it.

University and industry researchers are addressing these three emerging problem diseases. To avoid being caught off-guard, superintendents should take time to learn more about these diseases. Doing so will help identify and treat the diseases, and in some cases, avoid them altogether.

Pythium Root Dysfunction
Discovered in North Carolina in 1994, Pythium root dysfunction attacks putting greens and is limited to newly constructed greens less than eight years old. It is most commonly found in the Southeast, but also occurs in Midwestern areas with harsh summers. Bentgrass is most susceptible to the disease, which occurs on turf stressed from one or more of the following factors: high heat, repeated close mowing, low fertility schedules and drought.

Pythium root dysfunction causes the roots and crown of turfgrass to turn brown or black. The symptoms are most visible during the summer, but the disease actually spreads during spring and fall, when it is cool and wet.

Because symptoms are less prevalent on plants with a strong root system, there are several cultural practices superintendents can undertake to minimize damage caused by Pythium root dysfunction. Root enhancement techniques – specifically aerification, nutrition supplements, verticutting and reduced irrigation – are helpful in counteracting symptoms of the disease.

Irrigation management is also extremely important. Clay and compacted soils are more likely to harbor Pythium root dysfunction because of reduced drainage.

It is less difficult and less expensive to prevent Pythium root dysfunction than it is to try to cure it. Fungicides such as pyraclostrobin and triticonazole are two of the most effective at preventing the disease.

Dr. Lane Tredway, turfgrass pathologist at North Carolina State University, is one of the foremost experts on Pythium root dysfunction. To learn more about his research and information on NC State’s Center for Turfgrass Environmental Research & Education, visit

Brown Ring Patch
Formerly known as waitea patch, brown ring patch has been reported sporadically throughout the Midwest and is a mounting problem in Southern California. Occurring primarily on greens with high annual bluegrass (poa annua) populations, the disease is prevalent in warm and moist conditions.

Initial symptoms of brown ring patch are thin, yellow, concentric rings several inches in diameter that turn brown under hot or wet conditions. Once established, brown ring patch can quickly damage turfgrass. Temperature plays a significant role in regards to whether or not brown ring patch occurs. The disease does not spread in hot or cold conditions, but rather during times of mild (mid-60s to low-80s F) temperature.

Cultural control options of aerification and higher mowing heights are sometimes used to combat brown ring patch. Alternating among several fungicides – pyraclostrobin, propiconazole and triticonazole – has been an effective treatment.

Dr. Frank Wong, assistant plant pathologist at the University of California-Riverside, is considered one of the top brown ring patch researchers. For more information, visit UC Riverside’s Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at

Rapid Blight
Rapid blight occurs in the fall and winter, affecting several annual winter grasses used to overseed Bermudagrass. Affected species include ryegrass, annual bluegrass and poa trivialis. It is primarily seen in the Southwest, including Nevada, Arizona and Southern California, as well as on coastal areas in the Southeast and Northeast. Perennial grasses are not affected by rapid blight.

The disease is associated with a marine organism and cases of rapid blight rise significantly in areas where superintendents use reclaimed water or water with high salinity for irrigation. The disease can occur on any area that has been overseeded, but is usually treated only on putting greens.

Dr. Mary Olsen, plant pathology specialist for the University of Arizona-Tucson, has confirmed that rapid blight is caused by an obscure microorganism that prior to its discovery in turf was known to infect in marine plants such as seagrass, diatoms and algae.

Rapid blight shows itself as water-soaked, slightly sunken and darker looking turf. It turns yellow and dies in patches.

The primary cultural control option is to use better quality irrigation water, avoiding reclaimed water, if possible. Pyraclostrobin provides the most effective preventative control, with mancozeb as a less effective alternative.

Olsen is a leading rapid blight researcher. The University of Arizona’s Division of Plant Pathology and Microbiology is available on the Web at

Prevention, Education Key
To avoid being caught off guard by new diseases, it is important to stay educated on new diseases, be consistent with preventative tactics and devote time to detection efforts.

Part of being proactive is keeping up with the latest research and information about turfgrass disease. Superintendents who collect and absorb background information are better prepared when they encounter a problem – they know what they are dealing with and who can help them.

Some superintendents are quick to write off an undiagnosed problem as being untreatable by a particular fungicide they have already applied, so they simply retreat with a different product. Instead, they should take a turf sample and send it in to a diagnostics lab.

Fungicide manufacturer representatives, university extension personnel and other course superintendents are also good sources of information. It is wise to seek the help of others if they encounter an abnormality they do not recognize.

It may seem like common sense, but it is important for superintendents to walk their courses every day to keep an eye out for abnormalities. New diseases such as pythium root dysfunction, brown ring patch and rapid blight can cause problems quickly if undetected.

David Maubach
Senior Sales Specialist
BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals


Irrigation Winterization

November 12, 2009


If you haven’t already done so, the ritual of irrigation blow out is certainly on everyone’s mind this time of year. This procedure signifies the end of another growing season along with the realization that winter and the accompanying freezing temperatures are probably right around the corner. Properly blowing out an irrigation system ensures that minimal damage will occur during the winter months. Although blow out is a yearly occurrence, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of literature available about this important procedure. There seems to be various philosophies and most learn from field experience.

One aspect of blow out that has changed over the years is the pressure which the system is blown out. One reason for this change is the fact that sprinkler heads are now primarily comprised of plastic componts compared to their steel predecesors. As a result, the pressure which the system is blown out has been reduced. One way to help reduce the pressure is by using a pressure regulator.

The pressure regulator is usually mounted just off the compressor. The pressure can be monitored and adjusted by a handle on top of the regulator. I have often heard that 50 psi is sufficient to blow out most systems. Obviously, the higher the pressure, the greater the chance of causing damage to the piping system and the sprinkler heads. The other consequence of using higher pressures is coupled to the pressure of the compressor.

Compressors also have a pressure gauge and increasing the pressure of the regulator will decrease the pressure inside the compressor and vice verca. Most compressors should not be operated under 80 psi. Under 80 psi, oil can blow past the seals in the compressor and enter the piping system. Of course you won’t realize this has happened until you charge the system in the spring and oil comes spewing out of sprinkler heads.

Let me know if you have any tips from the field concerning winterization of irrigation systems. Hope everyone has a safe and successful blowout.

Marcus Jones

Graduate Research Assistant


Checking your Irrigation System Performance through Auditing

October 28, 2010

If your area hasn’t already experienced a frost this fall, tonight will likely be the night. After a couple of days of cooler temperatures and gusty winds, low temperatures are supposed to dip into the mid 20’s throughout much of the state tonight. With November just around the corner, the fall season will soon give way to winter (I think some of us thought it would never get here). Many of you will probably be winterizing your irrigation systems within the next three weeks. I wrote an article last year about the process of winterizing your irrigation system. You can access that article by clicking here. The winterization process and the freeze thaw cycles typically experienced during an Iowa winter can affect the overall performance of your irrigation system. A relatively easy way to check the efficiency of your irrigation system is by performing an irrigation audit.

An irrigation audit can be conducted for any location on the golf course (greens, tees, fairways) that receives overhead irrigation. The audit process involves recording various site characteristics and then conducting a test to determine how uniform the irrigation system is applying water to the area being tested. Information such as the sprinkler type, arc adjustment, nozzle size, operating pressure, head spacing and soil type are examples of site characteristics that are typically recorded. The uniformity is determined by placing a series of catch cans in a grid pattern across the area to be tested and then running the irrigation system for a specified amount of time.

The pictures below are from an irrigation audit I recently conducted. In the first picture you can see the catch cans placed across the green in a grid pattern. The distance between the catch devices will depend on the size of the area you are testing. We used heavy duty cups as our catch device for this audit and they were placed on 15 foot centers. Any object can be used to collect the irrigation water as long as all the objects are the same and you can measure the size of the opening of each catch device.

The irrigation system is then run for a specified amount of time and water is collected in each catch device. The amount of time the system is operated depends on the type of irrigation heads. In this audit the heads were gear driven rotors and the system was run for 10 minutes. The amount of water collected in each catch can is recorded once the cycle is complete.

Below you can see the results from this audit. The values from each catch device are used to calculate the Distribution Uniformity of the area. The DU represents how uniformly water is applied to the area and is expressed as a decimal. A DU value of 1.0 would represent complete uniformity within the area tested. For rotary sprinklers, the Irrigation Association considers DU values of 0.8 Excellent (Achievable) and 0.7 Good (Expected). Values below 0.55 are considered Poor and action should be taken.


The calculated DU for this golf green was 0.63. The obvious question now becomes what can I do to improve the overall efficiency of the system? Performing regular maintenance activities such as leveling sprinkler heads, adjusting arcs for matched precipitation rates, checking and replacing clogged or worn nozzles and drive mechanisms are all practices that will help. The results of the audit may alter you to problems that require more significant repairs such as moving sprinkler heads to appropriate spacings, adjusting water pressure (up or down), or even upgrading various system components.

Increasing the DU of your irrigation system can save your facility a significant amount of money and water over the course of the season. Uniformly applied irrigation can also lead to improved and more uniform playing conditions. The Irrigation Association offers some great resources about the auditing procedure. There is also a one and a half day seminar at the GCSAA Education Conference that provides classroom and hand-on experience of the auditing golf courses if you are interested in learning more.


Bringing Home the Hardware: A Review of the 2011 GIS

February 14, 2011

The 2011 Golf Industry Show is in the books. That’s also been the focus for a group of Iowa State University undergraduate students for the past 3 months who had been preparing for another run at the Collegiate Turf Bowl Competition.

John Deere sponsors the competition and awards a traveling trophy to the winning team along with cash prizes to teams who placed in the top 10. The winning team included Nick Dunlap, Quincy Law, Zach Simons, and Jason Van Engen, all seniors in Horticulture at Iowa State. The team received a $4,000 cash award which goes to the Turf Club. Three other teams from ISU competed and finished 17th, 47th, and 48th. The teams must complete a three and a half hour test on soils, turfgrass species, weeds, diseases, insects, mathematics, plant physiology, human resources, and financial management along with a case study question.

Picture from left to right: Gregg Brenningmeyer, global director of sales and marketing, John Deere Golf; Dr. Nick Christians, university professor and turf club advisor; Zach Simons, student participant; Jason Van Engen, student participant; Nick Dunlap, student participant; Quincy Law, student participant; Marcus Jones, graduate student and turf bowl coach; James Fitzroy, CGCS Wollaston Recreational Facility/Presidents Golf Course in North Quincy, Massachusetts.

The Turf Bowl is a highly competitive event with this year’s competition consisting of 87 teams from 32 colleges and universities. This year’s victory marks the 9th time in 10 years that a team from Iowa State has won the competition.

I have been fortunate to be involved in the contest for a number of years, first as a participant and then as a coach to our undergraduate teams. I want to thank all my “students” over the years that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Thanks for an amazing experience! 

There were many other activities at the GIS including educational seminars and the trade show. I attended seminars on irrigation water quality and electrical troubleshooting of irrigation systems. Managing turf that receives Irrigation from poor quality water will be an important skill moving forward as water demand and awareness of water usage increases. We discussed the various components of water quality such as salt content, sodium hazard, residual sodium carbonate, pH and ions present is toxic concentrations and how to interpret and adjust management practices to deal with water quality issues.

The electrical troubleshooting seminar was hosted by the Irrigation Association. This seminar covered basic troubleshooting skills such as how to properly use a volt-ohm meter along with many other gadgets in order to diagnose field wiring problems.


Enjoy the "warm" weather headed our way. Maybe that groundhog knows what he's doing after all.


It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

November 13, 2011

Many parts of the state received their first snowfall last week. The days are shorter and 4” soil temperatures are slipping from the low 40’s into the high 30’s. Most trees have lost the majority of their leaves. Long-establishing creeping bentgrass greens display a spectrum of purple patches. Everywhere you look, there are signs that another growing season is coming to an end. But irrigation winterization may best signify that the growing season is over and winter is just around the corner.

Irrigation winterization is the process of evacuating water from the irrigation pipes to avoid damage from freezing temperatures. While a portion of the water can be evacuated at dead ends and low points of the piping through manual and automatic drain valves, larger irrigation systems also “blowout” the piping system using compressed air. This method of winterization can be very damaging to the piping system and dangerous to workers if proper safety procedures are not followed.

I was reminded of the hazards that can occur during the winterization procedure when I received the picture below from a former student. In this scenario an individual head would not activate from the satellite box and the employee went to flag on the head. When the head activated, the internal assembly broke free from the bucket striking the worker under the chin.

Irrigation winterization can be dangerous and safety precautions need to be taken to avoid injury.

This post will outline some of the basic safety measures that should be followed to avoid personal injury and undue stress on the irrigation system.

Use a safety harness to tether the air hose to the compressor. Air hoses connect to the compressor though a claw or similar type coupling. The connection is usually secured with cotter pins or wire but also consider using a safety harness. The harness will prevent the hose from flailing about in the event the connection fails while under pressure.


A harness that connects the air hose to the compressor provides additional safety in case the connection fails when under pressure.

Do not force air through the backflow preventer. Be sure to hookup after the backflow preventer as forcing air through this component can cause damage. First, blowout the system, then allow the backflow preventer to drain.

Regulate the air pressure with a pressure regulator. Even though larger irrigation system may operate with water pressures in excess of 100 psi, air pressures of this magnitude can damage the system. Use of a pressure regulating valve can help prevent over-pressurization. Most manufacturers recommend air pressures around 50 psi.

A pressure regulator can help prevent excessively high pressures from damaging valves, pipes, and irrigation heads.

Do not stand directly over irrigation components when under pressure. Air is less viscous compared to water and can generate greater stress under comparable pressures. Weak points in the irrigation system can fail under air pressure. Protect yourself from personal injury by staying clear of irrigation components when under pressure. It’s also a good idea to wear proper eye and ear protection during the winterization process.

Do not work on a sprinkler head while under pressure. If a head sticks on or won’t activate automatically or manually valve the section off and bleed the pressure through a quick coupler. Once the air stops at the quick coupler the head is safe to work on.

Evacuate water ahead of time. Before activating individual sprinkler heads use drain valves and quick couplers to initially evacuate water. This will reduce the amount of water in the system and can shorten the time needed to evacuate air through sprinkler heads. Less air moving through valves and sprinkler components and will help cut down on wear and tear.

Quick couplers and manual drain valves can be used to drain water before evacuating water through sprinkler heads.

Do not allow sprinkler heads to run for prolonged periods of time. Sprinkler drive mechanisms are normally lubricated as the water moves through the internal assembly. In the absence of water, heat caused from friction can damage these plastic components. Cycle between one or more stations to avoid excess buildup of heat.

Taking care to follow these safety procedures can help the winterization process go smoothly while minimizing damage to the irrigation system and preventing personal injury.

Hoping you have successful (and safe) winterizations!

Marcus Jones
Assistant Scientist




March Weather Summary and Frost Watch

April 9, 2012
Although we have been spoiled by unseasonably warm temperatures frost could be an issue for a little while longer.

Keep the winter jacket handy at least for a little while longer. After experiencing summer-like weather conditions during the month of March, most of the state is under a freeze watch for Monday and Tuesday night. These more “normal” temperatures will feel anything but considering the very abnormal spring temperatures to date.

Temperatures in central Iowa averaged 55.7 F during March which is 16.4 degrees above normal. Overall, there were 12 days during March when the daytime temperature was in the 70’s or 80’s. The warmest day of the month occurred on the 16th with a high of 84 F. Now, we must prepare for frost. Historical weather records show that the average last date for frost occurs sometime between mid-April to the first week of May depending on your location in the state.

So what exactly is frost? Frost is the formation of white ice crystals on an exposed outside surface such as leaf blades. Annual plants are often more sensitive to frost and will need to be brought in or covered to be protected from the freezing temperatures. Luckily, our perennial turfgrasses are more tolerant and frost in and of itself will not cause damage to plant tissue. However, damage from frost can occur if there is traffic on the turf while frost is present.

Cart or even foot traffic is enough to cause damage. Because the cells within the plant are primarily water when the temperatures gets below freezing this water can also freeze. Traffic on frozen turf causes the ice crystals to puncture cell walls within the plan. Even though the turf will appear alright the damage has occurred internally. Frost damage symptoms include white to light tan leaves where traffic has passed. In time, the turf will acquire a brown to blackened color. Damage is usually limited to leaf tissue and will remain until new growth replaces the damaged turf. Mowing will help remove some of the damaged tissue and improve the overall appearance of the turf. In severe cases, damage can affect the crown of plant.

Frost damage on a creeping bentgrass fairway.  Here, damage was the result of cart traffic on turf when frost was present.

It’s difficult to prevent frost from occurring and perhaps the best strategy is communicating with the golf course staff. Have them to pay special attention to low-lying areas and shady areas. Cold air tends to settle into these areas and will likely be the last place frost melts. Just because there isn’t frost on the putting green which is exposed to full sun in the morning doesn’t mean the entire facility is clear.

Irrigation can be used to help speed up the melting process through the release of latent heat. When water changes from a liquid to a solid by freezing it gives up heat. In actual practice, surface temperatures will be held around freezing as long as liquid water is available. A light syringing of the turf can aid in this process.

Covers can also be used to protect turf from freezing temperatures although placing and removing covers is a labor intensive process. Newly seeded turf or renovated areas where recovery needs to occur will benefit from the heat trapped under the cover.

Until you reach your frost free date, keeping people off the course when frost is present is the best way to prevent damage.

Marcus Jones
Assistant Scientist



January 11, 2013

Here is a post by Dan Strey, research technician at the Turfgrass Research area.  It is about a new tee complex that he constructed in the fall 2012.  it will be used in future years for research and demonstration purposes at the station. (Nick)

(From Dan)
I think we can all say that 2012 was certainly an interesting and difficult year. Most of us are probably glad to see the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013.

During the heat of last summer, the crew at the research farm constructed a new tee complex that will be used for research and demonstrations. The process took approximately two months from start to finish. Some of you may have seen it mid-way through construction during field day.

Golf Tee Complex at Turf Research

Golf Tee Complex at Turf Research

The existing site was built to USGA specifications which included; 12” of sand, 4-6” of pea gravel, and drain tile laid into the subgrade. Both the sand and gravel were stripped off in layers using a Bobcat T-190. The materials were kept separate and stockpiled to reuse for the construction of the tee complex.



After the sand and gravel was removed, the subgrade was reshaped to match the new contours. This process required a cut and fill approach, since all of the material had to stay on site and be reused. Once the subgrade was formed, a 4-6” pea gravel layer was then installed and followed by a 12” layer of sand. The surrounding areas were constructed using native soil from the site. The project was completed without requiring the need of transporting materials; all materials were used from the existing site.




The irrigation system that was previously installed was removed prior to the excavation and used for parts to reduce the cost of the renovation. A new system was required to be able to control both the green and tee individually.  Golf course greens and tees require different amounts of moisture throughout the year. New lateral lines (2-1/2” Sch. 40 PVC) were installed and attached to the two existing valves. The eight existing heads (Toro TR70) were cleaned and reinstalled. 

The seedbed was prepared using a Toro Sand Pro 5040. This smoothed the area while still providing a firm surface. Both the tee and green were seeded with 007 creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) on October 1, 2012. The cultivar was chosen for its ability to resist dollar spot disease and heat tolerance. The areas were seeded at a rate of 1.75 lbs/1,000 ft² using a Scotts SS-2 drop spreader. After seeding, the same Toro Sand Pro was driven over the surface repeatedly to provide seed to soil contact. A starter fertilizer was applied at a rate of 1 lb. of phosphorus/1,000 ft²

The area was covered using permeable grow covers to maintain soil temperatures during the fall months. Germination was observed 10 days after seeding. The grow covers were removed four weeks after germination to allow the seedlings to harden off before winter.



May 1, 2013

At Iowa State, we have had a course called Horticulture 454, "Turf & Landscape Irrigation" for a number of years.  The course will be taught by Tim VanLoo of the Athletic Department in the fall of 2013. 

There is some work going on to expand this course and to teach it in conjunction with the community colleges. In addition to Tim VanLoo from Iowa State University, Randall Vos and James Legg-Instructors of  Des Moines Area Community College, Neric Smith-Instructor, Indian Hills Community College, Troy McQuillen-Instructor, Kirkwood Community College and Lynda Wightman, Industry Relations Manager, Hunter Industries Incorporated are involved in the planning process.   Hopefully this will become a web based course with laboratory courses on irrigation offered on-site at each community college location as well as at ISU.  This is a pilot project aimed at community colleges partnering with four-year schools to offer common courses.  The irrigation foundation ( has developed a wonderful set of curriculum resources, irrigation career information, and faculty training to assist colleges with the dissemination of irrigation information. Lynda Wightman,  was instrumental in assisting the group with the foundation material that would support the curriculum idea to partner in offering this class.  We will keep you informed of the progress on this course.  It would be available to those working full time in the industry when it is fully developed.

The picture below includes Barb Osborn of Iowa State, foreground left, Lynda Wightman, back left, Tryo McQuillen, back right, Neric Smith, center right, and Tim VanLoo, foreground right.  This initial planning session took place on April, 29, 2013 at Iowa State.