Golf Course water conservation initiatives

Robert Lewis

A study conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economies and Cooperative Extension at the University of Arizona in conjunction with the Cactus and Pine Golf Course Superintendents Association (GCSA) titled Contribution of the Golf Industry to the Arizona Economy in 2014, published in 2016, provides an excellent look at the golf industry in Arizona.

Besides identifying the economic, employment, golf play results and land use, the study also provided important information and trends for water usage and most commonly reported golf course management practices (conservation and management practices).

The golf course management practices included: aerification of the fairways, scouting for insects and disease, adjusting fertilization practices, modifying irrigation scheduling, using automated weather station, installing or improving drainage systems on the golf course on fairways, greens, bunkers and modifying current irrigation system.

For those facilities reporting a significant water savings, the results were realized as a result of irrigation system audits and adjustments. Turf-grass reduction accounted for another positive savings in water usage. The study also showed the average area over-seeded was down from 89.3 acres in 2009 to 75.8 acres in 2014.

Overall the study showed 48.1 percent of golf irrigation water used was Ground Water. Effluent water accounted for 26.3 percent of all golf irrigation water used. CAP water accounted for 14.6 percent and surface water accounting for 10.9 percent.

From this study we can see that the golf course industry continues to reduce its overall use of water (voluntary at this time, but future water usage issues/availability/reduction may be mandated) through turf reduction and continued review of overseed practices.

Considering our three separate nine-hole courses were designed and built over 20 years (Quail built early 1988-1989 designed by Ken Kavanaugh, Coyote built early-mid 1990s by Ken Kavanaugh; Road Runner built 2008 designed by Brad Bartel) it is not surprising that irrigation components are not the same. This causes issues for water pressure, irrigation head types, timing issues, etc.

We will be conducting an irrigation study in the very near future as well as changing some major irrigation feeders to provide a more consistent water pressure throughout the entire system.

This must occur before any sprinkler head adjustments/changes occur. The Course Superintendent has available the most current irrigation management system; however, the underlying sprinkler system must be balanced. Once these issues are addressed a more stable water usage practice can be realized with less water in bunkers, less watering of desert areas and overall water usage savings.

With the increase in population across southern Arizona, and no major increase in new water availability, the need for conservation efforts (whether voluntary or dictated) will have an impact on our golf experience. The combined efforts of the Green Committee, Course Superintendent and Robson Management are to determine a strategy to ensure the future of a viable, esthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly golf course. This effort will include better water management through better irrigation operations and turf reduction.