The Clubhouse

Irrigation Controller Upgrade

Fri 09 May 2014

During the start up in the spring we discovered that the wall mounted automated controller for the irrigation system had a fault with the motherboard. The controller was over 25 years old and as there are no replacement boards in production. We needed to consider a system upgrade and at the same time ensure that we future proof the system given its expected long life.

Over the past few years we have upgraded poorly irrigated greens by splitting them into 2 zones and so far on the 1st, 3rd & 8th installing valve-in-head sprinklers to greens and approaches. This has given us more control, pressure and coverage across these greens.

Valve-in-head systems require a decoder within every sprinkler head. The central irrigation controller sends a signal to the decoder which in turn activates the sprinkler allowing the water to pass through the valve and irrigate the green. The central controller determines the duration of irrigation for each sprinkler according to a pre-programmed scheme and cycles automatically through each sprinkler head on the course.

Following talks with SJS Irrigation, who carry out our shut down and start up plus support through the year, we investigated new control units and ultimately selected the Rainbird system. This is a mid-range system which will cope with future improvements and extensions to the irrigation layout on the course. The Rainbird system controller is PC based and is one of the most user friendly meaning any of the team can set it up and, if they have a problem, either the Head Greenkeeper, Rainbird support or SJS Irrigation can dial in remotely to help out. I have listed below a comparison of the old and new systems.

Old system:

  • Only 1 sprinkler/block of sprinklers can be run at a time
  • Run times could only be set at increments of 1 minute at a time
  • The controller could only work up to 99 stations (of which we only had 25 stations left)
  • A Greens/Tee program would take over 12 hours per cycle.
  • Electrical problems only show when the irrigated area dries out, by which point it’s too late
  • All electrical problems on the course could take at least a day to sort - tracing problems would all be done manually, sometimes 2 of the team would have to undertake the task.
  • Testing heads requires 2 team members – 1 to use the controller/1 to watch the heads

New system:

  • The computer working at its full potential can run several different sprinklers at the same time - depending on flow rates it can put up 2 to 4 stations together.
  • Overall reduction in run times and pump efficiency is maximised
  • You can input the amount of ‘rainfall’ you require to compensate for the evapotranspiration (water lost through evaporation and through the plant foliage) rate for the day. Sprinklers will run for however long is required down to the nearest second to cover the amount required.
  • Water savings due to accuracy.
  • If there is a problem the computer flags it up and can inform you if a solenoid/decoder or wiring has a fault and where it is.
  • The system can be controlled by an ipad/iphone or pc (with internet connection) from anywhere in the world.
  • The irrigation company can remotely access the system to make changes, perform upgrades or sort out issues without having to visit the golf club, saving in call out charges.

The green keeping team have made a significant saving in costs(12.5%) by undertaking some of the installation work out on the course including

  • Recording data required – Nozzle outputs/arcs/sprinkler type & model.
  • Installed the decoders/lightening protecting earthing rods/earth triangle.
  • Installed the PC and relevant equipment to control the system.

The total cost of the system after these savings is £11,400

Rainbird will be on-site on Wednesday 13th May to install the final software onto the PC and check everything over; they will also train the team up on the use of the system.

Should you have any questions please feel free to come and speak to me.

Andy Baker