Seattle’s summerlong dry heat brought out loads of golfers – a lethal one-two punch for wilting grass at many local golf courses. Which makes it all the more impressive that golfers playing the acclaimed Chambers Bay Golf Course along the banks of Puget Sound in mid-August found mostly bright green grass. Yet the course actually trimmed its water usage during the summer. This improbability may be a sign of the future of golf.
As environmental responsibility and sustainability become more important than ever, golf courses are poised to play a huge role. The sport has made significant progress concerning water, vegetation, and wildlife conservation.
Chambers Bay’s irrigation system is linked to a weather-monitoring satellite, so the course gets watered only as needed. “A weather station outside of the pro shop calculates rainfall totals, wind, temperature, and humidity readings, to tell us how much moisture the turf is losing, so we know how much to water,” said Josh Lewis, course superintendent. “It’s really efficient. We reduced water usage by 10 million gallons in just one season – dropping from 60 million gallons to 50 million – even though we set drought records.”
In extremely hot climates, smart sprinkler systems are even more critical. Troon Golf operates many upscale courses in desert areas in the United States, Mexico, and Central America. To keep them looking great, Troon uses state-of-the-art irrigation systems “to control the amount of water applied from each individual sprinkler,” said Jeff Spangler, Troon’s senior vice president of science and agronomy, who knows the precise minimum water needed for acceptable plant health. “We test soil regularly so that all nutrients are in proper balance, and plants can maintain improved health without needing additional resources such as water.”
This type of intelligence is becoming essential for golf facilities throughout America, where courses collectively use half of a percent of all United States water consumption – that’s 2.08 billion gallons of water each day, according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America – to maintain 1.5 million acres of grass. Water is key to golf’s sheer existence: It keeps grass healthy and green. After all, nobody wants to play 18 holes on dead, brown turf. That’s why, in November 2012, the United States Golf Association hosted its first-ever summit on golf course water usage, drawing experts in water resource management, golf course management, and scientific research to derive innovative solutions to preserve golf’s sustainability.
Some states ration on-course water. In Arizona, for example, courses are allowed to irrigate only 90 acres, and the amount of watering per acre is restricted based on agricultural formulas. In parts of Southern California, courses are to use only reclaimed water. So some courses are seeking heat-resistant grass that requires less water.
Newer courses are being proactive, right from the start. When built seven years ago, eco-friendly Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, New York, incorporated custom-built green liners under all greens during construction, to direct rainwater runoff into a dedicated irrigation pond to be recycled for use elsewhere on the course.