Off the Record: Water scarcity in the West drives need for good golf course management

By |  September 7, 2021 0 Comments
Photo: Mike Kenna

Photo: Mike Kenna

The heat wave in the West this year is raising more concern about how much water golf courses use. We should use the term arid instead of drought for much of the Southwest. Compared to other parts of the country, they have a deficiency every year. Ten to 15 inches of precipitation is not enough to maintain fine turfgrass for golf.

The concern about water management on golf courses is not new. The USGA has addressed this going back to the 1930s, and the USGA Water Resource Center is an excellent source of information. The Water Resource Center provides specific information for golfers, course facilities and communities.

The droughts in the central part of the U.S. in 2011 and 2012, prompted the Nov. 6-7, 2012 USGA Water Summit, held in Dallas, Texas. The proceedings of this meeting, Golf’s Use of Water: Solutions for a More Sustainable Game, summarizes presentations from experts in science, government, business, academia and golf to identify and discuss the most challenging issues regarding golf’s use of water. The summit is translated into three languages: English, Spanish and Mandarin.

The website states, “With communities continually working to provide sufficient quantities of safe drinking water, it is understandable that water use for recreational purposes is heavily scrutinized. While golf courses contribute to communities by providing green space, positive economic impact and recreation for those who play the game, it is also true that golf course irrigation is a necessary component of their management. It is the responsibility of golf’s leadership to ensure that our most valuable natural resource is used in the most forward-thinking, responsible manner.”

Even though the Water Summit is already more than eight years ago, water problems are still a significant resource problem for golf in the West. New information is updated in the “Latest in Water Resources” at the top of the webpage. It would be worth your time to visit the website and see how golf needs to continue to address water use.

Another area of the website examines case studies that showcase real-world solutions successfully implemented by golf courses. There are 133 case studies at golf courses that deal with all aspects of water and a few other turfgrass problems such as drainage and naturalized rough.

There is a water budget calculator, best management practice (BMP) conservation templates and information on drought emergency plans in the Water Management Tools section.

A water budget is an estimate of the amount of water that is needed for a course throughout the year. There are additional links on how to use the water budget calculator and a step-by-step demonstration. The BMPs provide a template for the course superintendent and club officials to help conserve water. The drought emergency plan has a step-by-step guide and downloadable spreadsheet to prepare for drought events.

While arid parts of the U.S. deal with water restrictions every year, the rest of the country needs to be more proactive and prepare for water shortages during periods of drought. The investment in research and education to deal with water conservation on golf courses provides practical solutions for you to use.

Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” Just ask a superintendent dependent on municipal water in the Western U.S. Water shortages create conflict pitting state against state and region against region. Make Twain said, “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.” Much has changed since Franklin and Twain’s time, but there is still a lot of truth and wit about people’s reactions to water shortages.

I hope you take the long view of how much water your course is using and, more importantly, find ways to conserve water. I recently visited my parents in Southern California and am still a little stunned at the number of golf courses closed due to water availability or how much it costs. If you add increasing land value and labor costs, it emphasizes the need to be proactive rather than reactive to periods of drought.

This article is tagged with and posted in Columns, From the Magazine, Research

About the Author: Mike Kenna, Ph.D.

Mike Kenna, Ph.D., is the retired director of research, USGA Green Section. Contact him at

Post a Comment