PRB Articles


Golf Courses

Many parts of the world are suffering from drier conditions, with water becoming scarce and more precious.

There are challenges ahead without question, but there is evidence that these challenges can be met. For instance, did you know that Los Angeles, which has added more than one million people in the past 30 years, uses the same amount of water today as it did in 1979?

In Phoenix, the city uses less water today than it did a decade ago and, even better, less water per person than two decades ago.

This has been accomplished in a variety of ways, such as more efficient water-delivery and storage systems. But most importantly, it has been done through effective water-conservation practices.

And if large cities can do that, golf courses, park and recreation centers, and other facilities can do it as well--and fortunately, many have.

Where’s The Water?

The development of golf courses in the United States is closely tied to the economy and the construction of high-end real-estate projects. In the 1920s, several major golf courses were constructed throughout the country, but this momentum stalled during the Depression and World War II, but recovered considerably in the 1960s and into the 1990s.

Now, U.S. golf-course development is in “code blue” status, according to David Hueber, president of the National Golf Association. This stagnant period has occurred because high-end real-estate development is on life support and the economy is struggling.

However, there is another reason as well, and it is all about water.

It has become very difficult to obtain a permit to build a golf course--whether private or public--because developers are not sure they will have enough water to support a course’s required maintenance. Many regions no longer allow potable water to be used for irrigation purposes.

Developers may also have trouble accessing “effluent” water--untreated or recycled water--which is not drinkable but can be used for irrigation.* However, in some parts of the country, local water departments simply do not have the infrastructure to deliver effluent water.

And then there is the cost factor. When something is in short supply, the cost usually increases; this applies to water as well.

In the 1970s, the cost of water for a typical American golf course was around $15,000 per year. At the very least, that amount has doubled in the past two decades, and in dry, populous states, such as California, a water bill might be as high as $300,000 per year.

As water availability continues to be a concern and water costs increase, along with current economic conditions, building a new golf course is simply out of the question in most parts of the country.

However, for golf courses now in operation, conserving water not only is possible but also may be necessary for their survival.

Conservation Practices

For years, the United States Golf Association has been taking steps to reduce the amount of water golf courses use. It is well aware that courses require plenty of water to operate, and during periods of drought, the courses often become key targets for criticism among local citizens, businesses, and politicians.

However, the association now can recommend several steps to reduce water consumption that park and recreation managers can heed:

• Use new and native grass varieties and vegetation in harmony with the local climate; these generally require less water and can tolerate poorer-quality water.

• Reduce the amount of turf installed at a golf course.

• Switch from overhead irrigation to drip irrigation where possible.

• Add more mulch to flower beds and shrub areas.

• Group vegetation with similar water needs.

• Install computerized irrigation systems that can evaluate climate conditions as well as turf-soil dryness so irrigation is performed when needed.

• Restrict cart traffic to specific paths to minimize turf wear.

• Minimize water runoff by cycling irrigation.

• Find water-source alternatives (e.g., collecting rain water, recycling clubhouse water).

• Analyze water-usage trends by conducting water audits; look for areas where water consumption is wasted or can be curtailed.

• Train staff to become water-conscious.

• Explore possible rebate programs from local water departments to help pay for water-conservation measures, equipment, and fixtures.

In-House Water Conservation

Although turf does require the largest amount of water used at a golf course or park and rec facility, steps can be taken to significantly reduce the consumption indoors as well, perhaps in the clubhouse.

Consider the following:

Install water-reducing, sensor-activated faucets. Reducing the flow rate of faucets and showerheads is simple: install readily available aerators that limit the amount of water released. Very often, users cannot even tell the difference between an older water-hungry faucet or showerhead system and those incorporating these new aerator technologies. Sensor-controlled faucets have also been shown to help conserve water because the systems are designed to stop water flow as soon as hands have been removed, limiting waste.

Investigate 1.3 gallons of water per flush (gpf) toilets. Today’s toilets are prohibited from using more than 1.6 gpf, but this is likely to dwindle to 1.3 fairly soon. These systems are available, and managers should select the most water-conserving toilets possible. A study by Purdue University found that, from June 2004 to June 2005, there was a 45-percent reduction in water use in those buildings where water-conserving toilets had been installed.

Use less-water and no-water urinals. The amount of water urinals use has dropped significantly in the past decade, from as much as 3 gpf to less than 1 gpf. Further, no-water/no-flush urinals, first introduced in the United States in 1991, are becoming more popular. Many golf courses and camp and recreation facilities have found no-water systems can work especially well in outdoor areas where plumbing installation is difficult or costly.

Water-Conserving Golf-Course Users

Ed McMahon, longtime Johnny Carson sidekick, once said that when he lived in New York, he always let the water run continuously while he shaved. However, after he moved to California and while shaving at a private club, one of the members instructed him to turn off the water when not needed. McMahon said he had never even thought of doing that, but did as instructed from that point on.

Similar water-conservation instruction may be necessary for golf-course users. For golf courses to survive in a world becoming even more populated, water responsibility and conservation are things all of us must take seriously now and into the future.

Katherine Pickett is a writer for the professional cleaning, building, hotel, education, and hospitality industries. She can be reached at 773-525-3021.

* It is estimated that more than one third of the golf courses in California and other, drier parts of the country are now irrigated with some form of effluent water.

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The Problems With Effluent Water

Although many golf courses thrive with effluent water, it is not always useful.

Some effluent water is referred to as poor-quality water because it contains minerals, bicarbonates, sodium, and other ingredients that can cause serious harm to grass and other vegetation.

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