New $1 million irrigation system to green up golf course

Dickinson's Heart River Golf Course is soon to become a lot greener with a lot less effort. United Golf of Tulsa, Okla., is overseeing the installation of a new $1 million Toro satellite irrigation system at the course and park district officials...

Dickinson's Heart River Golf Course is soon to become a lot greener with a lot less effort.

United Golf of Tulsa, Okla., is overseeing the installation of a new $1 million Toro satellite irrigation system at the course and park district officials believe the improvement can take Heart River to a new level of golfing excellence and enjoyment.

This new system replaces two separate irrigation units that were installed when the former Dickinson Country Club first opened as a nine-hole course in 1958 and followed with the upper front nine opening in 1983. During this time, the only major improvements on the two course irrigation systems involved $75,000 in 1971.

"It's been the original system with numerous repairs top and bottom," Park Board President Mike Lefor said. "I can't believe that system has worked as long as it did."

The ongoing patchwork approach to maintaining the two original irrigation systems came to a head after a severe storm in the summer of 2005. Lightning knocked out several of the irrigation control boxes on the lower back nine, but that fact wasn't realized until several days later when hot weather appeared and portions of the course started to turn brown.


Serious discussions then began regarding a permanent fix to the course's irrigation problems, which were further complicated by low water levels in adjacent Patterson Lake, the course's source for irrigation water. The ongoing drought lowered the lake level far enough so the course pumping station near hole 8 on the top nine didn't function because its draw pipe was sitting too high. This required floating the draw pipe on a barge farther into the lake to successfully draw water into the irrigation system.

Park district Director James Kramer said the old systems required course staff to fix holes and winter damage each spring until the middle of June.

"They were losing two to three months concentrating on that," he said, while averaging $9,000 to $12,000 a year in maintenance expenses.

"In years where we had to put the barge out, it was closer to $20,000 a year. Our staff won't have to dedicate so much time to get the new irrigation system up and running. They will be able to do other things," Kramer said.

Park district officials have known that totally replacing the two irrigation systems wouldn't be cheap. They worked with golf course irrigation specialist Rick Keller of Fargo to arrive at the system that's now being installed.

Kramer said the concept used in determining how much of the course would be irrigated with this new system was the same as designing the West River Community Center.

"We started with the dream irrigation system, and we backed it down from there to what areas we do want to leave native, what areas could we add down the road," he said.

There were things they knew had to be included such as double coverage, all the fairways, the initial rough, tee boxes, greens and area around the greens.


"We also knew this is a once in a 30- to 40-year thing, so we wanted to do it right. We did invest in a top-of-the-line system," Kramer said.

The Toro system that was chosen costs $789,000 and is the same system found on the top 100 golf courses in the country, Lefor said. The new system draws water through the old city pump house that once was the main water supply for Dickinson residences and businesses.

The advantage of using the old city pump house is its draw pipe sits on the bottom of Patterson Lake extending from the Dickinson Dam.

"It allows us to pull water from the bottom of the dam," Kramer said. "We have water until that lake is literally dry."

To prepare for connecting the new irrigation system to the old pump house, park district staff gutted the facility, cleaned and painted it. The old pump house has been redesigned to function with the new system at a cost of $120,000.

"You set up everything on a master controller on a computer," Lefor said. "You can have handheld controls that work the irrigation system from remote locations on the course. There are a lot of days in July and August that you want to cool down the greens. Previously, they would have to go back to the master control to do that, now they won't."

Even though the installation project has lost 10-14 days due to recent bad weather, Kramer said it's still hoped to have the system completely running no later than mid-June. The project involves installing a new main line on each nine, which then serves smaller lines that run to the sprinkler heads.

"This is not tying into anything of the old system," Kramer said. "We will salvage as much of the old equipment heads and valves as we can. But the pipe in the ground is abandoned."


Lefor said the park district approached the city for funding assistance since the city owns seven of the holes on the course but are managed by the park district. The Bureau of Reclamation owns the land on which the 11 other holes exist.

The city committed $480,000 to the project, while the park district approved $165,000 and is borrowing up to $190,000 from Wells Fargo Bank over 12 years, Lefor said. The park district has not received the city funding, as it instead approves bills and then gives them to the city for payment.

The park district also established a joint powers agreement with the Stark County Park Board where the county gave a lump sum of $144,000 for the project. In return, Lefor said the park district removed nonresident fees for Stark County residents outside the city of Dickinson.

The park district also agreed to help manage the scheduling at the Southwest Speedway and assist with park and recreation projects anywhere in Stark County, Lefor added.

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