Dave Barriger’s love-hate relationship with rain is soaked with irony.
Four years ago, the 100-year flood hit Columbus, and Barriger, superintendent of Greenbelt Golf Course, found himself up to his elbows in water, risen 4 feet high in clubhouses. He was equally flooded with misery.
But these days, Barriger is begging for rain to help keep Columbus’ oldest course well-maintained.
Although Barriger claims he’s winning his battle, he’s not alone in the fight against the drought of 2012, one that’s pestered the likes of all walks of life, greenskeepers not excluded.
“Nothing beats rain,” Barriger said.
Problem is, no one knows when rain will come again.
It’s Barriger’s 14th year keeping Greenbelt green. He never had been presented a challenge like the present drought, which recently earned the classification as extreme by the U.S. Drought Monitor. An unusually warm spring led to a summer’s progression from warm to dry to desert-like.
“This is the worst, by far,” Barriger said. “Lack of rain. It’s just a lack of water.”
Harrison Lake superintendent Steve Biggers dreams of a well watering his course, but Harrison’s main source of water comes from the man-made ponds, or hazards, golfers’ worst enemies and greenskeepers’ best friends. The lack of rainfall this summer didn’t do much for keeping the ponds high and tee boxes, fairways and greens lush.
“My ponds are getting very low,” said Biggers, who’s been working on golf courses since 1972. “My main irrigation pond is down 3 1/2 to 4 feet right now. One of the ponds we use to fill our irrigation pond is already empty. I have one other small one that I can get water out of, and it’s getting pretty tight.
“Right now, my priorities are keeping things alive,” Biggers said.
Preservation starts at the end of each day, with overnight watering, and ends with a fine-trimming, a touching-up, each evening. In between, there’s an order of emphasis by which greenskeepers work: greens, fairways and tee boxes, in that order.
“You have priority of what you have to take care of,” said 37-year-old Otter Creek superintendent Cory Toroyer.
Toroyer’s talk indicates his business is good, despite the obstacles.
Meanwhile, Biggers said he’s living the life of comedian Bill Murray in “Groundhoug Day,” only nothing’s funny. He wakes up to the same miserable heat and fights its scorching rays each day, attempting to protect Harrison’s winding green acres by meticulously dispersing the scarce water and following with wetting agents that help break down the surface tension in the water.
“So it stays in the soil longer,” Biggers said.
By tweaking Harrison’s computerized irrigation system, Biggers controls where water disperses and how much water disperses, allowing him to conserve his main resource. He’s turned off the water running along the edges of the fairways and relied on the middle pipeline for supply.
“We’ve drastically cut back on amount dispersed,” he said.
That’s OK for Otter Creek and Greenbelt because they own wells from which they draw their water. But Harrison doesn’t have that luxury.
Before the beginning of July, Biggers irrigated the course with water from Harrison Lake, but he’s been cut off since then.
“If there are situations that we get into where we might need water, we can go to them. But Lake Harrison is down so far right now, I can’t see that’s going to happen,” Biggers said.
That’s the nightmare of it all. Like Murray in “Groundhog Day,” Biggers can’t escape life’s cruel game.
He’s not in crisis mode, but “we’re getting very close,” he said. By two month’s end, he said, Harrison needs to have 5 million to 6 million gallons of water.
“As we sit right now, I don’t have that,” Biggers said.
That’s the thing about water in Indiana, When it rains it pours, and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
And in 2012, it hasn’t.
“When you’ve done this for a while, you can expect just about anything,” Barriger said. “This has been a long, dry, hot summer.”
Toroyer can’t disagree.
“The two previous (summers) we had what we thought were significant droughts at that point for a month or two, but nothing compares to this,” he said. “I mean this started, really, in April.”
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