Courses in Rockland County, N.Y. are being required to cut water usage by at least 10 percent in a measure that one superintendent sees as “the wave of the future.” In central Massachusetts, clubs are enjoying good business levels but have growing concern about course conditions.
As hard as it may be to believe after the month of July ended with rain threatening completion of the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. and a flash flood that brought unprecedented damage to Ellicott City, Md., clubs and courses in several regions of the Eastern Seaboard are having to cope with drought conditions that have even led in some cases to water-usage restrictions.
On July 28, The Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y. reported, water-use restrictions were imposed in neighboring Rockland County that one golf course superintendent felt was just the beginning.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day put into effect a Stage 2 water emergency for the county, The Journal News reported, which forced, among other restrictions, golf courses to cut back their water usage by at least 10 percent.
“We understand that golf courses are businesses and they make a significant investment in their facilities,” Day said in a statement provided to The Journal News. “We also know that most of them hire professionals to maintain the facilities. Many, if not most, already use water-saving techniques.”
One of those professionals, Chris Dyroff, Superintendent of the Philip J. Rotella Memorial Golf Course in Thiells, N.Y., told The Journal News that he felt the restrictions were “the wave of the future [that is] going to happen more and more.”
While many local residents and business purchase their water from Suez Water New York, which supplies water to approximately 300,000 Rockland County residents, Rotella draws water from its ponds on the Rotella course, The Journal News reported, and relies on rainfall to replenish them.
Dyroff said he’s already cut back the course’s water usage by 20 percent, twice as much as what the county has required. Rotella uses approximately 150,000 gallons of water every day when there are no restrictions, Dyroff said.
“I kind of imposed my own restrictions because once that pond goes dry, I’m out of water,” he told The Journal News. “You can’t count on thunderstorms to fill the pond back up.”
Rotella has halted the cleaning of golf carts as one water-saving measure, The Journal News reported. Dyroff estimated there are approximately 125 rounds played at the course every weekday and 200 rounds played on the weekends, and that “90-95 percent” of the golfers use carts, especially during the summer.
Patriot Hills Golf Club, in Stony Point, N.Y., has taken a similar approach, The Journal News reported. Dave Fusco, the course’s resident PGA head professional, said Patriot Hills has been washing golf carts only at the end of each day since the restrictions were imposed.
While the Stage 2 status of the restrictions have not yet had a significant impact on golf courses in the county, Fusco told The Journal News, that would change with an upgrade to Stage 3, when courses would be mandated to reduce water usage by at least 20 percent.
The drought rule curve shown in the Rockland County Sanitary Code’s mandatory water conservation measures lays out the classifications for Stages 1 to 3 of water restrictions by month in a bell chart, The Journal News reported. According to that metric, a Stage 2 water emergency can be called in July when the total amount of available water in the United Water New York Ramapo Well Field is anywhere between 17 million gallons to 80 million gallons. August has similar figures. Stage 3 can go into effect if the amount of available water falls below 17 million gallons.
That’s not too likely for August, Accuweather meteorologist Ed Vallee told The Journal News. “Right now we’re in a relatively serious situation,” he said. “[But] I don’t think the drought is going to get much worse.”
The current drought is the result of a year-long dip in precipitation, Vallee said. Precipitation in Rockland and Westchester counties has been 9 percent higher than normal since the start of June, but 19 percent less than normal since the start of the year.
The heat has not helped, either, Vallee added, and while that’s not likely to diminish much, rainfall may increase.
“The heat is going to remain this summer,” he said. “We’re certainly starting to see more thunderstorm activity. I think there will be opportunities for rainfall.”
If the drought persists, Rockland County will enforce restrictions with fines reaching as high as $2,000 per day for residents, The Journal News reported. But Day said collecting fines was not the objective.
“We will issue violations if we have to, but that is not the goal of these restrictions,” he said in his statement. “The goal is compliance—money from fines is not going to help the residents of Rockland if they turn on their faucet at home and nothing comes out.”
In central Massachusetts, The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass., reported, the lack of rain this year has enabled golfers to play more often, but has forced superintendents to work harder.
“I’ve never gone through this,” Jason Brostrom, who is in his 11th season as Superintendent of Green Hill Municipal Golf Course in Worcester, told The Telegram & Gazette. “Every day is a struggle. It’s just so hot. We’re not used to this.
“Ninety degrees doesn’t happen that often here,” Brostrom added. “Last year or the year, before we went the whole summer without one day in the nineties.”
Mike O’Connell, Superintendent at Highfields Golf & Country Club in Grafton, Mass., told The Telegram & Gazette that the extended heat had him “pulling my hair out. But for business,” O’Connell added, “it’s excellent.”
Although the forecast for the last weekend of July called for the possibility of heavy thunderstorms on Friday, The Telegram & Gazette reported, Brostrom said Green Hill received only three-tenths of an inch of rain. That was enough to get him through Friday and Saturday without having to water the course, but not enough to make a big difference.
Asked on Friday if he expected more rain this weekend, Brostrom replied, “I never expect it, but I am hoping for a little.”
Green Hill hasn’t had more than half an inch of rain since May, Brostrom noted, and most of the rainfall since then had been two-tenths of an inch or less.
“We need multiple days,” he told The Telegram & Gazette. “Not in a row, but an all-day rain and a light rain but not a heavy rain, because heavy rains just run off.”
Green Hill remains remarkably green where the irrigation reaches, The Telegram & Gazette reported, but brown where it doesn’t.
Asked if he could pump water from Green Hill Pond to irrigate the golf course, Brostrom replied, “You’re the 700th person who’s asked me that in the last two weeks. No.”
Green Hill uses city water, The Telegram & Gazette explained.
O’Connell, 41, and his staff have kept the course at Highfields G&CC as green as they can, The Telegram & Gazette reported, but their water supply is dwindling. The course received only two-tenths of an inch of rain Thursday and Friday, enough to keep the irrigation off Thursday night.
“The damage is done,” O’Connell said. “All you can do is learn from it and see how well the course recovers. [We’re] glad to have owners that understand the challenges and the best grounds crew around to get us through and keep the place looking great.”
Highfields relies on snowfall and rainwater, the town water supply, and two wells that can pump 35 to 40 gallons a minute from ponds on the 12th and 16th holes, The Telegram & Gazette reported. The pond on 16 was as deep as 15 feet, but O’Connell pumped the last bit of water out of it on Friday.
For the past couple of weeks O’Connell has purchased two 8,000-gallon tanker trucks of water each morning and two each evening, at a cost of $250 for every 8,000 gallons, The Telegram & Gazette reported It’s the earliest in a season that he has had to purchase water since he became Highfields’ Superintendent in 2003, the year the club opened. Usually, he doesn’t need to order water until mid-August, and for no more than a week or a week and a half.
In addition to the lack of rain, O’Connell said the temperature has hit 90 or higher nine or 10 times at Highfields this year. He said he hasn’t seen the weather stay this hot and dry for so long since he began working at a golf course in Amherst, N.H., in 1994.
“From a superintendent’s perspective,” O’Connell told The Telegram & Gazette, “it’s just depressing when you have certain things that are out of your control. It takes a toll on you.”
While rainfall at Highfields is 8 inches of rain below normal this year, he noted, the silver lining of a drought is that the rough thins out.
“It’s early,” O’Connell pointed out. “We still have two solid months of summer left. The 15-day forecast beyond Monday does not look pretty. This was just kind of like a gasp of air. It’s just one little breather and then we go back into it. Hopefully, it changes.”
And the wind makes the drought even more severe, he noted.
“A hot dry day followed by a hot dry windy day is like a slap in the face for the turf,” he said. “On a happier note, this [Saturday] morning was the first time in a long time we’ve seen a dew on the grass. [And that means we’re] one day closer to fall.”