Golf courses scramble to weather lack of rain

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With high heat and drought conditions pressing down on Indiana in the early weeks of summer, area golf courses are struggling to keep the courses green and lush.

Mark Nance, who operates city-owned Coffin and Riverside golf courses, said he expects his water bill to be up at least 10 percent, or about $3,000, this year.

rop-golf-course-071612-15col.jpg Crooked Stick Golf Club’s new $1.9 million irrigation system has 2,500 heads and is capable of spraying varying amounts of water on greens, fairways and rough areas. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Courses on wells also have issues. Officials for The Legends, a semi-private course in Franklin, said their electric-powered irrigation system pushed the course’s June electricity bill to its highest monthly total since the course opened in 1993.

Course superintendents and their staffs are working 16-hour days trying to keep grass alive. They’re using automated systems and watering some sections by hand while constantly monitoring ground temperatures and moisture levels.

“Watering a course is definitely a science,” Nance said. “In weather like this, you can lose a course in a day or two. And this time of year, if you lose it, it isn’t coming back.”

Courses that don’t get it right are looking at $25,000 to $50,000 in re-seeding and restoration costs, industry officials said.

No area course is under more pressure than Crooked Stick, which is hosting a PGA Tour event, the BMW Championships, in September. The event will draw the top 70 golfers in the world, along with 150,000 spectators and a nationally televised audience. PGA officials are set to inspect the course this week to make sure it’s in championship condition. (See below for a video on high-tech tactics used to keep the turf in shape.)

“We’re all very concerned about the next 30 to 45 days,” said Tony Pancake, Crooked Stick’s director of golf.

PGA officials will inspect the quality of tee boxes, greens, fairways and the thickness of the rough areas on the outer boundaries of the course.

Crooked Stick has two things going for it. The 200-acre course in Carmel is on a well, which helps keep its watering costs down. Even with its deep well and network of holding ponds, Crooked Stick has had to tap into Carmel’s water supply through a fire hydrant to supplement its own stores.

The majority of water used to keep the course green will come from Crooked Stick’s well, said Pancake, who expects a water bill for the season of about $4,000 for tapping Carmel’s city water. Many courses without wells have a $30,000 water bill on an average year. Some expect to approach $40,000 this summer.

Even more significant for Crooked Stick officials was their decision to install a new, $1.9 million irrigation system this past off-season.

“I have no doubt [Crooked Stick] is going to be in great shape, right where the PGA wants it to be,” said Ted Bishop, director of golf for The Legends Golf Course in Franklin who also serves as PGA of America’s vice chairman.

Given this year’s severe weather, Bishop doubts Crooked Stick could meet the PGA’s standards without the new irrigation system.

Newer irrigation systems have several programmable features, Bishop explained. Most important is the ability for the system to focus on small areas of the course and vary the amount of water sprinkled.

“The bent grass on the fairways is going to require a different amount of moisture than the blue and fescue grasses in the rough,” Bishop said.

Though the rough areas may look like overgrown weeds to the uninitiated, Bishop said the thickness of those areas is critical to PGA officials. Thinner roughs, Bishop said, are easier to play out of and don’t penalize the players enough for making a bad shot.

Most golf courses can’t afford to invest in a sophisticated irrigation system, Bishop said, but for Crooked Stick, a private club, it appears to be paying dividends.

The new irrigation system and the quality of its course through some of the roughest weather conditions Bishop said he’s seen in more than 30 years in the golf business has put Crooked Stick in the running for PGA Tour events beyond this year.•


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  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

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