Northern California Golf Industry Convenes to Tackle Drought
April 16, 2015
The biggest issue facing golf in Northern California–water– was the primary focus during a symposium held Thursday at Poppy Hills Golf Course.
Over 120 club directors, course owners, green chairpersons, superintendents and other members of the golf industry were on hand for a Golf Course Superintendents Association of Northern California (GCSANC) Regional Conference Meeting that was hosted by Poppy Hills and the Northern California Golf Association.
With the Golden State continuing to suffer from extreme drought, the topics of water, sustainability and the future of golf couldn’t have been more pertinent.
Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown announced the first-ever statewide mandatory water reductions.
“Even the Governor realizes that no size fits all when it comes to water regulations,” said Mark Connerly, Executive Director of the GCSANC. “He knows that you can’t blanket the state with the same regulations.”
In February of 2014, a new Sacramento Golf Industry Water Conservation Taskforce was created, paralleling similar groups that already existed in Los Angeles, San Diego and the Coachella Valley, to establish communication lines between golf courses and regional water agencies.
According to Connerly, one of the industry’s goals is to create a taskforce that encompasses all of Northern California.
Connerly also noted that while some like to point fingers at golf courses as being water wasters, only 1% of the total water in California is used at golf facilities. He also noted that there are 128,000 jobs in the California golf industry, and that golf has a $13 billion economic impact in the state.
“We don’t want to create another problem by restricting golf,” Connerly said.
In a presentation titled, ‘Proven Practices for a Sustainable Golf Course,’ Pat Gross of the USGA Green Section said that it is not turf that uses too much water.
“What grows in rainforests? Trees do. What grows in plains areas and the savannah of Africa? Turf grass,” Gross said.
Gross went on to show how courses in different regions are adapting to the drought. Spanish Trails Country Club in Las Vegas uses just 60% of its irrigation capacity, but remains “very playable.”
Closer to home, Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz only irrigates the main playing areas and greens. The Course at Wente Vineyards has stopped watering its rough.
“We are not afraid of technology. We’re adopting it to help with water conservation,” Gross said. “Energy is also critical. Every gallon of water moved has an energy cost. That can be managed as well. We need to teach the younger generation how good golf courses are for the environment.”
On the instructional front, a program to help golf course superintendents maximize their sustainability practices is in the works.
In a partnership between CSU-Monterey Bay, the NCGA and Poppy Hills, superintendents will be able to attend seminars (starting January 2016) that further acquaint them with the best practices in sustainability. Some of the subject areas of the program will be energy and agronomics.
“Young people today are very sustainability conscious so they look at golf as overusing resources,” said John Avella, the Executive Director of CSUMB’s Sustainable Hospitality Management Program. “One of the things that golf does not do well is brag about the good things it does.”
At Poppy Hills, the primary purpose of last year’s $13 million renovation of the course was water conservation. The new Poppy Hills features 12 new acres of natural area that was previously irrigated turf and 1,800 state-of-the-art individually controlled sprinklers that know whether or not an area needs to be irrigated. While much of the old Poppy Hills playing area is gone, the new Poppy Hills actually features 150% more fairway space.
“The main thing we asked ourselves was, ‘How could we reduce the total areas that were being irrigated?’” said Bruce Charlton, the Chief Design Officer for Poppy Hills architect Robert Trent Jones II. “Then, we wanted to make sure that what we took out in turf you could play.”
Matt Muhlenbruch, the superintendent at Poppy Hills, noted that water consumption during the course’s first year since re-opening was the same as it was three years ago.
“We are equal in water consumption to 2012 but the circumstances are different.” Muhlenbruch said. “Poppy Hills has the ability to use the same amount of water during the most difficult circumstances. Drought, young turf and sand capping have greatly improved the golfer experience. As these circumstances shift we will be able to further reduce the amount of water we use. We used 30% less water this last summer vs historic averages.”
As the drought continues, everyone in the golf industry is aware that every drop counts.