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Blog Article

How CapillaryFlow’s innovations can help golf courses save up to 85% more water and extend the playing season

Editorial Team
How CapillaryFlow’s innovations can help golf courses save up to 85% more water and extend the playing season
December 11, 2023

Overview of Capillary Hydroponics

In 2023, CapillaryFlow celebrated the fifth anniversary since the implementation of its first Capillary Hydroponics sub-surface irrigation system. Over these five years, numerous golf courses and sporting venues have witnessed a transformative impact of the system, with one of the most significant benefits being the substantial savings in water consumption – up to 85%, according to CapillaryFlow’s own studies.

Looking ahead, the goal is crystal clear: to revolutionize the way and places in which grass is grown in golf courses and other sport and leisure venues worldwide.

But why now? It boils down to two crucial factors.

1. Water conservation is the need of the hour: Even though the sport industry (particularly golf) has been actively working to reduce its consumption of water for decades, the water crisis in many areas across the world continues to persist and even worsen. Commencing January 1, 2024, for instance, golf courses within the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) will operate under a reduced water budget that has been reduced from 6.3 acre-feet per year to 4.0 acre-feet per year. These latest restrictions indicate that though existing water conservation measures in golf courses are working (US golf facilities applied approximately 1.68 million acre-feet of water in 2020, a 29% reduction since 2005, according to a GCSAA report), the need for more innovative and disruptive solutions to save water remains.

2. Natural grass is considered the gold standard for sports surfaces but growing healthy natural grass in such spaces is challenging: Growing resilient natural grass is not solely about water consumption. The conventional method of growing grass in soil has a substantial impact on the maintenance budgets of golf courses, sports pitches, and urban landscapes. One formidable challenge for greenkeepers, superintendents, and turf managers worldwide, stems from one critical factor: the presence of organic material in the root zone. Compaction or excessive moisture retention by organic material hinders drainage, resulting in waterlogged surfaces during rainfall, significantly compromising turf playability.

When we consider these two factors, one can understand the dilemma a decision-maker must navigate: embrace the more convenient but potentially dangerous artificial turf for sport and leisure surfaces or settle for less-than-ideal conditions with natural soil-grown grass surfaces.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

At CapillaryFlow, we are on a quest to assist organizations and individuals worldwide in building low-maintenance and sustainable natural spaces for sport and leisure.

Game changer: Capillary Hydroponics and Capillary Geothermal

This is where CapillaryFlow’s two innovations – Capillary Hydroponics and Capillary Geothermal – can prove to be a game changer.

Capillary Hydroponics is a revolutionary system that utilizes an oxygenated and fertilized moving underground water table to cultivate turfgrass in greens, tees, and fairways. This proprietary system significantly reduces water consumption by up to 85%, ensuring the growth of stronger, more durable turfgrass with markedly less maintenance and environmental impact.

Capillary Hydroponics: How it works

At the core of the Capillary Hydroponics system is  Capillary Material, a patented pervious cement ­and polymer material – the only building material capable of rapidly draining water while also moving it upwards. Invented in 2009, it is behind one of CapillaryFlow’s most successful solutions, Capillary Bunker liners, which has transformed the way the golf industry constructs and maintains bunkers.

The Capillary Hydroponics system comprises several layers: an impermeable liner that sits on the soil, drainage pipes, drainage gravel, a layer of Capillary Material, growing medium and finally natural turfgrass. The area under the surface is split into two equally large parts. A control basin that moves the water is placed on the outside with pipes that feed into each cavity. It automatically oxygenates and pumps fertilized water back and forth between the two sections several times a day, watering the roots as it goes. When the water moves and enters or exits the pores of the growing medium, the gas exchange increases by up to 6.000%.

The level of the water table is completely controllable and the water moves between each cavity at a fully adjustable rate too. This system minimizes the amount of water required to grow turfgrass and promotes strong root growth, with a growing medium that can carry any load and even heavy trucks. Capillary Material ensures a perfectly flat and level base beneath the rootzone, which is crucial for the functioning of a hydroponic system.

System overview. The basin moves water between the two sections, irrigating the turf from below.

Capillary Geothermal: Ensuring an extended playing season

CapillaryFlow’s irrigation solutions extend to another innovation: Capillary Geothermal, a value add that moderates the subsurface temperatures of golf tees and greens using geothermal technology, thus ensuring the robust growth of grass in extreme environments, and extending the playing season.

Capillary Geothermal works best in locations where there are large fluctuations in air temperature between the summer and winter. 

The system leverages the stable temperatures about one meter beneath the ground's surface to moderate grass performance. In the winter, it utilizes stored thermal energy to warm irrigation water, increasing the rootzone temperature and subsequently reducing winter damage and extending the grass season. During summer, it cools irrigation water using the earth's natural coolness, ensuring a firmer and drier playing surface. Remarkably, this process relies on subsoil temperatures, requiring minimal energy for water circulation via an air-lift pump.

Capillary Geothermal seamlessly integrates with Capillary Hydroponics, enhancing its innovative subsurface irrigation system. This collaboration promotes rapid grass germination and year-round growth, preventing winter damage and ensuring robust performance and vibrant color. In the summer, it prevents heat stress on the grass by cooling the root zone through subsurface irrigation. The system's energy efficiency, controlled via a user-friendly app, underscores its cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability.

Capillary Geothermal offers adaptability, with the option to extend pipe lengths, allowing for tailored heat exchange. The integrated app simplifies operation for straightforward control while the system’s mechanical components ensure hassle-free maintenance and reliability. From an energy perspective, Capillary Geothermal is incredibly efficient, consuming only approximately 50-75 kWh per watering cycle. This efficiency reduces operational costs and environmental impact.

Capillary Hydroponics and Capillary Geothermal: Benefits

The benefits of using the Capillary Hydroponics and Capillary Geothermal system for greens, tees, pitches and other sport grass surfaces are many:

  1. Water consumption savings: By irrigating from below, there is reduced surface evaporation decreasing water loss and consumption by up to 85%.
  2. Customized application: The surface performance and moisture levels can be designed purely for the purpose of user or sports application.
  3. Targeted and consistent irrigation conditions: Capillary Hydroponics provides the most efficient way to irrigate turfgrass. The consistent movement of water up and down through the root profile prevents isolated dry areas and irregular irrigation patterns. This also creates even playing conditions, such as the right green playing speed.
  4. Less weed and disease pressure: The lack of surface water from overhead irrigation leads to less weed and disease pressure because healthy turf is less prone to diseases and fungus.
  5. Faster grass establishment and growth: The grass grows better and faster, with up to halved grow-in time and deeper roots. This is because the moving water table allows for greatly improved oxygen exchange, up to 6,000% which increases root growth.
  6. Robust grass growth even in cooler seasons: The combination of a hydroponic system with subsurface irrigation and heating accelerates germination and growth. This means that tees and greens can achieve rapid and year-round grass growth. Even in the cooler months of autumn and winter, the system maintains a robust performance and enhances the grass's winter color.
  7. Optimized year-round performance: The Capillary Hydroponics and Capillary Geothermal system delivers a firmer and drier playing surface, ensuring consistent performance for golfers. The result is an optimized performance experience all year round.
  8. Lower fertilizer consumption: Distribution of fertilizers and pesticides through the water in circulation allows for lower total consumption and near zero leaching.
  9. Exceptional drainage: Capillary Hydroponics grounds drain excess water at a rate of 100 mm an hour – 17-25 times better than soil-grown grass. The drainage is so efficient because there is no organic matter which can prevent/affect soil moisture movement. This ensures grass remains vibrant in all weather conditions.
  10. Grow in sand: You can grow turfgrass in a more coarse/rough sand which means you can have firmer and quicker playing conditions on your green. This means you can prepare for a more long-term playability and don’t have to do short term fixes to retain playability or certain green speeds.
  11. Energy-efficient and sustainable: Capillary Geothermal is an energy-efficient solution that makes the most of natural temperature differentials within the subsoil. It minimizes water consumption and maximizes grass growth while reducing operational costs. It is practical and versatile, working effectively across various climates and areas.
  12. Low maintenance: Both the hydroponic and geothermal systems have few mechanical moving parts, reducing the risk of breakdowns. Centralized app-based control simplifies operation and maintenance, making it user-friendly for golf course maintenance crews.

Where will the largest benefits of Capillary Hydroponics be realised? 

While the Capillary Hydroponics subsurface irrigation system and all its benefits might seem overwhelming as it fits all grass surfaces, there are a number of use cases we perceive to be the strongest at the moment:

  1. Playing areas that aren't suitable for overhead irrigation: Many high-traffic areas, such as driving range tees, putting greens, and practice facility greens, require 100% uptime, regardless of the situation. This typically means having to choose between neglecting either the players or the grass. Not anymore. With Capillary Hydroponics’ subsurface irrigation there are no interruptions to play as the turf is consistently irrigated from below. As a result, it always receives adequate water and nutrients for robust growth.
  2. Playing areas that require consistent playing conditions: The performance of sports and athletes heavily depends on the ground conditions provided by turf managers or greenkeepers. A good or poor surface can dramatically influence performance. Irrigating from below the surface on a set schedule creates consistent playing conditions over time. For instance, a golf green will greatly benefit by maintaining consistent green speeds throughout a championship weekend.
  3. Sports surfaces where turf quality is key: Player performance is impacted by uneven surfaces and poor grass growth. By enabling more efficient grass growth, where sand can be used in the root zone without adding organic materials, issues like compaction and ground settling are avoided. Additionally, increased oxygen-gas exchange and the porosity of the rootzone contribute to the development of deeper and stronger roots.
  4. Areas that are prone to be waterlogged: Golf greens and pitches with soil-grown grass tend to become waterlogged following heavy rainfall. The moisture-holding capacity of soil and organic materials hinders optimal drainage, leading to downtime. By introducing sand in the root zone and utilizing our Capillary Material, water can drain at a rate of 100mm per hour.
  5. Locations with water consumption restrictions: Natural grass typically requires substantial water to stay lush. However, this is no longer a concern. Studies show that Capillary Hydroponics uses up to 85% less water to grow grass as compared to traditional systems for soil-grown grass.
  6. High-traffic areas: As the grass grows stronger with deeper roots, the turf can have a higher utilisation rate. With sand in the root zone there will also be no mud in seasons where grass doesn’t grow robustly.
System overview. A Tee Box with greater wear tolerance that won't be interrupted by overhead irrigation can be created with The Capillary Hydroponics System.
A green at a practice facility, or on the course, can benefit greatly of not having any downtime irrigating, or improved drainage.
A football pitch with improved draianage or no settling of the ground can help create safer and better playing conditions

On the ground with Capillary Hydroponics and Capillary Geothermal

Both the Hydroponics and geothermal systems have started to see widespread adoption across the world. Here are some of our latest installations: 

Tee boxes

In 2020, while conducting a significant renovation, the Grove in Hertfordshire, England, incorporated the Capillary Hydroponics subsurface irrigation system for a new tee installation. In 2023, the Silver Spring Golf Club in Connecticut, USA, installed a Capillary Hydroponics tee with a geothermal system. 

Germination after 10 days at Silver Springs GC, Connecticut
The Grove, UK. Notice the solar panel to the right; the system runs partly on solar energy.


The first-ever Capillary Hydroponics green with a geothermal system in Sweden was installed in August 2023 in Hovås, at the Gothenburg Golf Club, the country’s oldest golf facility.

The Gothenburg Golf Club was looking for a way to putt on natural greens that held PGA tour speeds and performance all year long and identified the CapillaryFlow solution as the only system in the world that offered a geothermal solution to warm the root zone, enabling turfgrass to grow year-round in colder climates and withstand frozen ground conditions.

“This is a game-changer for our elite players and members alike, to be able to use natural greens for longer in fall and earlier in the spring is fantastic!” said Ola Lindgren, head coach for the men's Swedish Golf Federation National Team. “The added advantage of a hydroponic system to keep greens speeds and uniformity at tour level is amazing.”

Ola Lindgren at Hovås GK is satisfied with how the project turned out.
Right before seeding the surface, it was visual to the bare eye which half of the turf that was currently irrigated

MSU Water savings study

One of the most significant benefits of using Capillary Hydroponics to grow grass is the huge savings in water consumption. According to CapillaryFlow’s own studies, the system uses up to 85% less water.

But Martin Sternberg, founder, chief innovator and CEO of CapillaryFlow, wanted to be absolutely sure. He wanted scientific validation. “We want to scientifically prove the 85% water savings,” said Sternberg in 2022. “We want to scientifically prove the cleaning effects – that less fertilizers and pesticides are being used and there is less leaching. Basically, we wanted to prove all the benefits of the hydroponic system in a scientific manner.”

A chance encounter with Dr Thomas Nikolai, Senior Turfgrass Academic Specialist, in 2018, planted the seed for research that is aimed at establishing just that.

The research, initiated in June 2022 at Michigan State University's Hancock Turfgrass Research Center — a hub of turfgrass research excellence since 1978 — is evaluating the economic and environmental impacts of CapillaryFlow's Hydroponic system against the USGA recommended Variable Depth Rootzone system. The primary focus lies on water consumption during the initial two years. Preliminary findings reveal promising results, and the first official results are anticipated to be published by January 2024.

For this project, six 36’x36’ identical greens were constructed. Three are Capillary Hydroponic Greens and three are Variable-Depth Rootzones, the latest in USGA technology. All six of the greens were constructed with the same sand that is within USGA recommendations. Incidentally, Variable-Depth Rootzones is the predominant way to build high performing grass surfaces today in football stadiums, golf courses, parks and everywhere where high-performance grass is needed.

All the greens were initially grown with overhead irrigation. Later, the Capillary Hydroponic Greens started receiving sub surface irrigation while the variable depth greens continued to get overhead irrigation.

To read more about this study, click here: Why CapillaryFlow is seeking scientific validation for its hydroponics system

Watch this space for the first official results of the MSU study.

Martin and Dr Nikolai at installation site of our research project
The greens at MSU is showing significant water savings, and no difference in STIMP or other playing characteristics when compared to USGA's variable depth root zone greens

Equestrian riding arena

With Capillary Hydroponics, you can create a grass riding arena with optimal riding conditions in most weathers and seasons. As the grass grows in equestrian sand, it's always safe to ride on, has optimal drainage and also won't get waterlogged or muddy.

Recently, we saw the riding field Forget Me Not, in Wellington FL, get their system installed.

Hydroponic Grass Riding Arena in Wellington, Florida, after 3 weeks of grass grow-in
System overview for an equestrian grass arena

The future at a glance

Capillary Hydroponics tackles various challenges in turf management for sports and leisure surfaces. Whether providing efficient solutions for areas unsuitable for overhead irrigation or ensuring consistent playing conditions crucial for sports performance, CapillaryFlow's technologies provide robust solutions. These innovations cater to the needs of high-traffic playing areas, sports surfaces where turf quality is paramount, and sports facilities susceptible to waterlogging or facing stringent water restrictions.

What's next? As CapillaryFlow continues to implement its innovative system globally, ongoing efforts in innovation persist, aiming to optimize construction methods and the system even further. Our mission is to empower sports, cities, and organizations worldwide to cultivate perfect grass anywhere, offering the technology to achieve this in an environmentally friendly manner. We're not just transforming the turf as we know it; we're reimagining the possibilities.

Would you like to see the system in action yourself? Then you can meet us at the following events: 

Together with our Partner Border Sports Services, we will be attending BTME, 23-25 JANUARY 2024, hosted by BIGGA, in Harrowgate UK.

We will be attending GCSAA Annual Conference 2024 in Phoenix, AZ US with our full team.

For more information about above information, go to or write to us at


Want to know more about our products?

Would you like to know more about how we can help you grow turfgrass that is stronger, drains better, is less prone to diease, consumes 85 % less water and grows for an extended season? Contact us!


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