Golf courses receive close scrutiny about the water they use, especially in the desert of the Southwest and other drought-prone areas.
The golf industry continues to work harder and smarter to save water. According to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, 92 percent of golf courses use some sort of wetting agent, a type of chemical to aid in water retention and efficiency. Also, 78 percent of its member courses report that they use hand watering for more precision; 65 percent say they have upgraded their irrigation systems recently and only 15 percent say they use municipal water supplies.
In honor of Earth Day, the staff at Golf Advisor reached out to representatives of hundreds of courses from around the U.S. to find out what they are doing to reduce water consumption. Here's a sampling:
Quail Lodge & Golf Club, Carmel, Calif.
KemperSports, which manages the Robert Muir Graves-designed course at Quail Lodge, estimates that a renovation completed in 2015 will allow for a 20-percent reduction in water usage. Architect Todd Eckenrode of Origins Golf Design removed several water hazards, replacing them with drought-tolerant areas of wood chips and native plants. The ponds that did stay were lined to hold in precious rainwater once lost.
Saddle Creek Resort, Copperopolis, Calif.
To comply with California's state-wide mandate to reduce water use by 25 percent (and local authorities requiring 35 percent), Saddle Creek irrigated 40 fewer acres on the golf course this year than last, resulting in a 50-percent cutback in water used. The maintenance staff removed 230 irrigation heads, limited 150 others to 180-degree turns, reduced fairway size from 25 acres to 18 and substituted "wetting agents" for water when possible. Most important, the browner look didn't sacrifice much in the way of playability.
Video: Morning Drive roundtable on water conservation
Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort & Spa, Boerne, Texas
For years, the golf course at Tapatio Springs has suffered through drought conditions. It was one of the reasons the 27-hole resort was reduced to 18 in 2013. There wasn't enough water available at times to irrigate 18 holes, much less 27. Burned out fairways were a result of water rights issues and little measurable rainfall through brutal summers. A project this winter looks to change all that and make the course self sufficient. A plan to dredge out the lakes on the course will increase the capacity on those waterways from around 8.5 acre feet of water to around 70 acre feet. During rainy periods, instead of water just running off the course into the valleys, these ponds will fill up, giving the course more than enough water to survive summer droughts.
Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
A prestigious semiprivate club located along South Carolina's Grand Strand, Dunes Golf & Beach Club turned to remote sensors about three years ago to collect data about soil moisture, temperature and salinity. The sensors can be placed anywhere on the course -- tees, greens, fairways -- and the information is used to determine when and how much water is needed, saving not only water but also energy consumption. Recorded water usage over the past three years is 10-20 percent less than the previous five years.
Olivas Links, Ventura, Calif.
In 2014, this KemperSports-managed facility renovated its 12.5-acre driving range, adding areas of artificial turf, to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent, while also eliminating the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Olivas Links, awarded the 2015 Community Enviro Award by the California Golf Course Owners Association, also uses a Toro computerized irrigation system that carefully measures and controls water use on the course.
The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, Harrison, Tenn.
The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay sits on a peninsula extending into the Tennessee River. Eleven of the 18 holes come in direct contact with the water. To follow regulations regarding runoff, Superintendent Paul Carter implemented vegetative buffer strips 10 to 25 feet wide on the edges to act as filter for both wildlife and water quality. A conversion from bentgrass to Ultradwarf Bermuda greens further reduced water consumption by more than 1 million gallons a year. And changes in the irrigation system, including partial circle heads around the greens, are cutting water usage down further and creating firmer conditions on the surrounds. Plus, more than 50 acres of maintained turfgrass returned to its native state. The overall result is 7.39 million gallons less water usage annually.
San Vicente Golf Resort, Ramona, Calif.
A bucolic 6,633-yard Ted Robinson, Sr. design located in the rolling hills inland from San Diego, San Vicente Golf Resort underwent a million-dollar turf reduction program earlier this year to save on water costs. Wood chips and native areas replaced roughly 18 and a half acres of grass along the layout's perimeter. The ponds on the first, third and 14th holes have been rebuilt with liners to hold water.
Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club, Wickenburg, Ariz.
Opening a new course in the Arizona desert comes with strict regulations on capping turf acreage and water usage. By constructing an expensive on-site weather station, Wickenburg Ranch, which opened earlier this year, is able to monitor irrigation practices and how much water plants and grasses lose to evaporation. By growing a limited amount of turf on a combination of sand, a sand/peat moss mix and fine gravel, the club is better equipped to manage drainage and provide more consistent moisture management across the entire course, which improves water-use efficiency.
Raleigh Country Club, Raleigh, N.C.
Donald Ross' Raleigh Country Club, a private country club accessible through the McConnell Golf Trail, is one of several local courses that have been reusing recycled water supplied by the City of Raleigh since 2012.
Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Pasatiempo Golf Club, a legendary Alister MacKenzie design became the poster child for California's drought in 2014 when the city of Santa Cruz significantly cut back its water allowance, forcing the course to stop irrigating its fairways. The resulting brownout caused a barrage of criticism from visiting golfers. Pasatiempo made a nice recovery after heavy rains in December 2014 and the winter of 2015, but management continues to search for long-term solutions, such as digging a well on property and negotiating with the nearby community of Scotts Valley for water rights.
Video: Matt Ginella on Pasatiempo's water conservation efforts
Poppy Hills Golf Course, Pebble Beach, Calif.
A new-look Poppy Hills G.C. debuted in 2014 after a thoughtful renovation by original architect Robert Trent Jones II, who reduced the irrigated turf from 82 acres to 62 acres while still lengthening the course. The soil profile changed -- thanks to Precision-Sense mapping, a trademark of Toro -- by capping the mostly clay native soil with five inches of sand, increasing drainage and allowing turf roots to penetrate deeper and thus to thrive on less water.
Brooks Golf Club, Okoboji, Iowa
Superintendent Brett Hetland's efforts have included updating the irrigation system, reducing irrigation to areas out of play and initiating hand-watering in other areas to increase efficiency. The club also installed updated pumps to reduce irrigation time by four hours a day. In addition, when nine new holes were added at Brooks Golf Club, it implemented a wetland system that collects backwash water from a nearby water tower. The result is that the club is able to collect about 45 acre feet a year for irrigation.
Metropolitan Golf Links, Oakland, Calif.
Metropolitan Golf Links, which opened in 2003, sits on one of the harshest environments for growing grass you'll ever find. The course sits on top of a landfill above an old golf course (Lew Galbraith G.C.) that closed down in 1995 when toxic sludge was deposited on top of it. Superintendent Mark Ingram did the challenging grow-in of this Johnny Miller/Fred Bliss design, and it's been sort of a Houdini act since. Using reclaimed water, Ingram experimented with several kinds of grasses. In the end, he used a special alkali grass native to the Bay Area on the fairways, and on the greens, a rare bentgrass, which is also tolerant to the reclaimed water. In addition, Ingram always keeps the course on the edge water-wise, which is beneficial for its links-style playing characteristics.
Forest Dunes Golf Club, Roscommon, Mich.
Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective on things. Beginning in 2016, Forest Dunes will boast a new Tom Doak design called the Loop -- a unique course that can be played forward or backward on alternate days. It will be carpeted with fescue, a grass that needs minimal irrigation. Superintendent Brian Moore, newly hired from Chicago Golf Club, takes a unique approach to water management.
"My philosophy for water management is give it what it needs and nothing more," Moore wrote in an e-mail. "Condition plants to look for water and not have them rely on getting water. Much of my focus for next season will be reducing water use on the existing (Tom Weiskopf) course. I will. Too much is used annually. Less is more in my eyes! A dry plant is a healthy plant."
Tom Doak pulled it off. The same guy who gave us Pacific Dunes just built 18 greens that can be played in two directions, and thus, Forest Dunes in Roscommon., Mich., will go from one course to three courses. Limited preview play on The Loop will be offered next summer. Avid golfers and other architects will come from all over to experience a concept that could become the next trend in course design. For more on The Loop and several other new courses in America, be sure to watch #ArchitectsWeek III on @gcmorningdrive (Dec. 7—13). The green in the lower right of this pic is the par-3 sixth hole when playing The Loop counterclockwise. It's the par-4 12th when the course is played clockwise.
Golf courses around the world are doing their best to conserve water. Is your local course doing anything unique? Let us know in the comments below.
Mike Bailey contributed to this report.