Pondering golf’s water issues

Pondering golf’s water issues

Natalie Coughlin knows enough about water to fill an Olympic-sized pool. A 12-time Olympic medalist, Coughlin is one of the winningest competitive swimmers in American history. The irony, as she readily admits, is while she loves swimming, she “hates jumping in the water.” Many of us have a love/hate relationship with water. We love that it nourishes our courses, but we hate its increasing costs and uncertainty. With so many questions, let’s turn to the experts for answers.

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July 7, 2015

 
Henry DeLozier

Natalie Coughlin knows enough about water to fill an Olympic-sized pool. A 12-time Olympic medalist, Coughlin is one of the winningest competitive swimmers in American history. The irony, as she readily admits, is while she loves swimming, she “hates jumping in the water.” Many of us have a love/hate relationship with water. We love that it nourishes our courses, but we hate its increasing costs and uncertainty. With so many questions, let’s turn to the experts for answers.
 

What’s the situation in California?

Craig Kessler, the government affairs director for the Southern California Golf Association, clarifies what Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order does and does not cover: 1) It applies to potable water use only, meaning the 37 percent of California golf courses using non-potable water to irrigate are not affected; and 2) because of the way the order is structured, none of the 123 golf courses in California’s Coachella Valley (Palm Springs region) comes under its strictures.

“The California golf industry has been preparing for this day for years,” Kessler said. Long before the drought set in, he noted, golf’s use of smart irrigation technology, turf reduction, firmer-and-faster maintenance practices, voluntary compliance with conservation edicts and close engagement with the game’s regulators as actions put California courses in better position than the current drought conditions might suggest.
 

What does Audubon recommend?

Audubon International has enrolled more than 3,000 properties – including golf courses – in its education programs. Executive Director Douglas Bechtel recommends that golf’s water practices recognize that courses are often located within larger and more diverse ecosystems that demand consideration. He points to continued learning, awareness and use of best management practices as three points of emphasis for golf and golfers.
 

How can the USGA help?

The 2015 Green Section publication “Golf’s Use of Water” is a valuable guide with instruction on the use of recycled water along with information golfers should know about the relationship between golf and water, says USGA Green Section managing director Dr. Kimberly Erusha. (I bet most golfers don’t know that 80 to 85 percent of a turfgrass plant – by weight – is water.)

People who own and manage golf courses can be inundated with the volume of guidance to improve water-use efficiency and to reduce consumption. In fact, Patrick O’Brien, a USGA Southeast regional agronomist, offers a handful of tactics that result in water reductions. In the USGA Water Resource Center, one can learn the value of (a) measuring water consumption on a regular basis; (b) cultivating the soil so it more effectively absorbs the water available; (c) how wetting agents maximize water impacts; (d) deploying water-sensing technology to measure need and eliminate overwatering; and (e) adjusting mowing heights to reduce stress on the grass.
 

Is there a benefit to drought conditions?

One of the greatest benefits arising from the California drought may be the focus placed on the scarcity of water and smart-use practices. Ironically, the recent rainy spring in Texas and nearby states had the same effect as national media reported on the before-and-after conditions. We learned the May-to-early-June decline – from 37.79 to 24.57 percent of the continental U.S. in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor – represented the second-greatest decrease in the 16 years the agency has been measuring drought conditions.

Water will remain a priority for golf. Its supply will ebb and flow, causing concern among water users. Water costs are likely to continue to rise, as is the case with most resources in heavy demand. All of which means water and its role at most courses will continue to increase.

But golf’s use of water is efficient and has been for some time. In fact, there has been a steady march of improving efficiency in course irrigation. Jim Wyffels, director of operations at Spirit Hollow Golf Club in Burlington, Iowa, notes, “It is terrific how much more efficiently I use water now than when I started in the business almost 20 years ago. We have the tools and the knowledge to manage and measure consumption so much more effectively.”

 

Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. DeLozier joined Global Golf Advisors in 2008 after nine years as the vice president of golf for Pulte Homes. He is a past president of the National Golf Course Owners Association’s board of directors and serves on the PGA of America’s Employers Advisory Council.