Golf Course Playability and Water Efficiency: Spiio Moisture Data Helps Inform Decisions at Chevy Chase
Jeremy Turton, superintendent at Chevy Chase Country Club, discusses the importance of minimalistic watering. His installation of Spiio is one of the ways he monitors his course to keep it on the dryer and firmer—but still healthy—side for optimal playability.
Chevy Chase Country Club is a beautiful championship golf course situated near Chicago in Wheeling, Illinois. Jeremy Turton has been the course superintendent for over six years now. He brought with him about 20 years of experience, having previously been the super at the George Dunne National Golf Course in Oak Forest, IL. Before that, he worked as an assistant superintendent at Idlewild Country Club (Flossmoor, IL), Glenwoodie Golf Course (Glenwood, IL), and Thunderbird Hills Golf Course Huron, OH).
Turton’s career started, however, like many others, with a high school job on a grounds course. He attributes his initial interest in the field to that initial job, which was at a course near Cleveland. “I really enjoyed being able to see instant results from my work. I also learned a lot from the super there,” he says.
That superintendent was the one who pointed Turton toward the Turf and Turfgrass Management program at Ohio State University, where he got his degree. His initial job hunt landed him in Chicago for a couple of seasons, and the rest is history.
Challenges at Chevy Chase
“This job at Chevy Chase actually came to me,” says Turton. The course needed lots of help, and its staff and leadership trusted Turton to bring that help. “There was definitely some overwatering going on, and there wasn’t any aerifying. I don’t know that I’d ever seen greens quite like that.”
However, Turton also acknowledges that at Chevy Chase he found “the best crew I’ve worked with. They have a lot of experience, and they don’t need me to babysit them.” Together, they worked to drastically improve the course’s health and playability.
It’s been a challenging few years, to say the least. In 2017, the course experienced massive flooding and had to close for the season. Then, of course, three years later came Covid-19, which rocked the industry everywhere. However, he’s overseen progress and improvement even through these obstacles.
Spiio, Watering Efficiency, and Course Playability
One of Turton’s most recent efforts to continue improving the Chevy Chase course was to install a Spiio sensor. He decided to compare its moisture readings with the TDR readings he had been using already.
“I use Spiio as a baseline. I can see drydowns there.” He placed a sensor in a section of the green that was drying out faster than other sections. “It’s our alert,” he says. “It’s typically the first spot we have to check with the TDR, and we often have to hand water there. So, we know that as long as that spot is doing well, everywhere else is good too.”
Climate change and other large-scale factors make real-time data that much more necessary.
The primary reason Turton has for using Spiio to monitor the course is to get reliable data for water management. The goal is to decrease watering as much as possible. In addition to the expense and environmental cost of overwatering, too much moisture also leads to disease in turfgrass. Specifically on a golf course, another factor to keep in mind is playability. The turf needs to be dry enough to be firm for playing (while, of course, staying healthy enough to be sustainable.)
The Long-Term: Climate Change and the Relevance of Spiio’s Current Data
In addition to moisture, Turton also uses Spiio to check soil temperatures under 65 degrees. That temperature threshold gives him important information about when to apply fungicides.
But moisture is the biggest interest for Turton. The data from Spiio informs agronomic decisions, such as whether and how much to water, which Turton monitors by watching the decrease in moisture throughout the day.
Watering and other agronomic decisions are further impacted by larger factors like climate change. “It feels like the season is longer; fall stretches longer and winter slams harder,” notices Turton.
Watering and other agronomic decisions are further impacted by larger factors like climate change. “It feels like the season is longer; fall stretches longer and winter slams harder,” notices Turton. “That affects the impact of storms, which we are having to worry about on a more regular basis than we used to. Staying warm longer also effects our fungicide applications.”
Climate change and other large-scale factors make real-time data that much more necessary. Many highly experienced professionals in the turfgrass industry are recognizing the value of in-ground data. It’s becoming increasingly the case that what happened last year and the year before, let alone ten or twenty years ago, just might not happen this year. Those who see the value of concrete, timely data are more likely to invest in technology like Spiio to inform their agronomic decision-making.
The Short-Term: Spiio’s Impact on Staff Training, Course Playability, and Ease of Data Access
However, even aside from long-term issues like climate change, real-time data pays off here and now. A course’s playability is directly affected by its watering, and that watering has shown to be more efficient and more cost-effective when determined by relevant and current data.
Best of all, the data comes easily to the user. “The app is addictive!” admits Turton. He is one of many who really appreciates the ease of access to the most recent data, which updates regularly. These updates allow the user to quickly notice crucial trends in the soil throughout the day.
“The app is addictive!” admits Turton. These updates allow the user to quickly notice crucial trends in the soil throughout the day.
Finally, we know that no technology can completely replace the necessity of good, reliable staff. Turton has noticed that Spiio data has actually helped him in working with his staff. For example, he has a new assistant whose professional background is slightly outside the field. While his assistant is being trained on some of the intricacies of managing a golf course, it helps Turton to have demonstrable data to point to.
Right now, Turton still has already noticed its potential in the short and long term, especially when it comes to watering decisions. That kind of opportunity-oriented focus on improvement is one of the reasons that Turton and his capable staff have helped make Chevy Chase the destination that it is.