August 16, 2002
A nice little creek splits the golf course at Shawnee Country Club.
Fortunately, the unnamed tributary of the nearby Mispillion River is not normally a playing hazard for the course.
Last weekend, however, a wretched second shot slid off to the right of the 12th hole and bounded toward the creek. After a few minutes searching, we found my ball sitting in the water.
That’s when I noticed that the rest of the creek was bone-dry.
Aside from a puddle or two, the creek just wasn’t there.
I had never seen it like that before, so I contacted Shawnee course superintendent Steve Zeveney for more information.
“We’ve been in a water deficit problem for a long time,” he said. “I know I’ve never seen the creek dry out, so this must be some kind of record.”
Zeveney explained that the golf course is irrigated by well systems, and does not use the creek to water the grounds. “We’re careful how we use our water, but it’s still a concern to see how low the stream and ponds have gotten.”
Ed Brown, the course superintendent at Rehoboth Beach Country Club, also noted the effects of the drought.
“Until recently, the ponds on our course were as low as I’ve ever seen them,” he said. “They were at least two to three feet below normal. After that storm a few weeks ago dumped 2 to 3 inches of water on us, the ponds filled right back up. Now they’re starting to go back down again.”
Brown was confident of his ability to maintain the necessary irrigation needs of his course.
“Our water is drawn from wells 100 to 150 feet deep, in the Columbia aquifer,” he explained. “Our new irrigation system is efficient enough to stay well within our allotment. We’ve also been spraying growth regulators on our turf, to reduce the need for water, and taking other steps to conserve.”
Mark Coty, the superintendent at Baywood Greens, shared his fellow greenskeepers’ concerns and strategies.
“Our ponds are way down, but our water needs don’t come from them. In fact, the aquifer levels for the well systems we use haven’t changed at all in the last six years. Just the same, this is the worst drought I’ve ever seen in my sixteen years in this business,” Coty said. “It’s been a battle all year.”
“It’s not just the drought, it’s also the heat stress,” Coty continued. “We’ve had over 34 days with temperatures above 90, and that puts a real strain on plant life.”
Besides careful husbanding of the water Baywood uses, Coty is also adding wetting agents to the irrigation system.
“The wetting agent is a surfactant. It reduces the surface tension of the water, which helps it penetrate the surface of the dry soil better. The agents have been really helpful this year. I tried a thirty day experiment without using the wetting agents, and holy cow, what a difference!”
The Rookery’s Chris Adkins said that the ponds on his course were down about 3 to 3 ½ feet.
“Our well’s fine, actually, but the thing to remember is that irrigation systems are designed to supplement the natural rainfall, not to be the sole provider.”
Adkins said that their irrigation system covered the primary playing areas, but that some segments of the rest of the course showed the effects of the drought. “Besides the lack of rain, we’ve also seen high evaporation rates due to wind and low humidity. Some of our mounds really dried out because of their exposed positions.”
As with the other local course greenskeepers, Adkins is also using growth regulators and wetting agents to help handle the stressful situation.
Adkins said they added new sprinkler heads last year, and plan to do more this fall: “We can really see where we need them. Next year will be different.”
Let’s hope so.