Much of Dwayne Dillinger's 29-year career as as superintendent has been about solving problems.
Whether it was finding an out-of-the-box solution to an expensive water problem, working around a constantly shrinking budget or helping find a way to grow the game on a local scale, Dwayne Dillinger has been up to the task at the county-owned Bell Nob Golf Course in Gillette, Wyoming. And that is why Dillinger, 55, has been named as a finalist for the 2018 TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta.
Nearly a decade ago, Bell Nob was facing a crisis.
In those days, the course was on the potable water IV. Facing escalating water costs and no feasible alternative source at the time - there are two wells on the course, neither of which was a viable source - the property was staring down the barrel of a genuine financial situation.
"The price of water was going to make it difficult for the golf course," Dillinger said. "We were spending $60,000 to $70,000 on water every year, and it was going to go up even more. The course had already declared bankruptcy in the 1980s because of water.
"Two wells on the property were not suitable for irrigation. One was high in bicarbonates and had almost no calcium, so there was nothing to buffer the bicarbonates. The other was high in iron and calcium."
That's when Dillinger, who studied turfgrass management in the 1980s at Colorado State University, had a brilliant idea. Why not mix the two?
Water from each source had been used to irrigate turf in the past and had caused poor turf quality. After running some tests and mixing the water from both sources together it was determined that the weaknesses of one source were countered by the qualities of the other. The result, if everything worked according to plan, would be a more stable water source at a fraction of the cost of potable water.
Dillinger hatched his water-saving idea in 2010. Two years later, after he had sold the plan to county stakeholders, the county had built an 11-acre holding pond capable of storing more than 150 million gallons where he could mix water from both wells. The project, which included some upgrades to the irrigation system came with a $1.2 million tab. Officials projected, based on anticipated rate hikes for water and power, that it would take about nine years to break even, so it is right about now that the county is finally realizing the true benefits of the project.
The expanding city was reaching the limits of its water supply and began raising water rates to help curb usage and promote conservation. Rates were raised to a level that would have required the golf course to spend over $350,000 on water in 2011. Irrigating with potable water was no longer economically sustainable, the golf course needed to develop an alternative.
"The expanding city was reaching the limits of its water supply and began raising water rates to help curb usage and promote conservation. Rates were raised to a level that would have required the golf course to spend over $350,000 on water in 2011. Irrigating with potable water was no longer economically sustainable, the golf course needed to develop an alternative," wrote Rick Mansur, executive director of the golf course in his letter nominating Dillinger for the award.
"The new system is producing usable irrigation water for $1.30 per 1,000 gallons as opposed to $4.23 for 1,000 gallons of potable water."
In conjunction with the water project, Dillinger reduced the irrigated acreage by 10 percent and cut water use by more than 20 percent.
Finding alternative water sources and ways to use less of it are just a couple of the reasons a half-dozen people nominated Dillinger for the award.
When the county looked to grow the game Dillinger designed a nine-hole par-3 course that was friendly for kids and beginners. He also secured funding and donations to see the project through to completion.
"Through donations, fundraisers, seeking product and materials from businesses at cost, the course was build for less than $250,000," wrote Dave McCormick, a former parks and recreation director for Campbell County, Wyoming, which owns Bell Nob. "The Wee Links is home to our junior golf program with more than 200 youth participating each golf season and the Campbell County School District golf teams.
"Dwayne has had a tremendous impact on the golf community in Wyoming and around the region for more than two decades."
He also has had an impact on his fellow superintendents. His experiences combining two unusable water sources into a single viable source was the subject of a case study and was fodder for educational presentations for his colleagues.