Neighbors of the recently renovated GreatHorse in Hampden, Mass., are concerned that their wells will run dry due to the golf course’s high water demand. In Albuquerque, N.M., golf courses are getting some drought relief brought on by an increase in rainfall.
The recently renovated GreatHorse, formerly known as Hampden (Mass.) Country Club, is raising concerns among neighbors over its water use, while rain in Albuquerque is giving golf courses some drought relief.
Since buying the 18-hole GreatHorse at auction three years ago, the Antonacci family has spent $45 million on the grand vision of a golf destination, the Boston Globe reported.
“The ultimate goal would be to have a US Open or very large professional event,” said Guy Antonacci, 28, president of the club that his father and uncle, Jerry and Frank Antonacci, bought for $1.4 million in 2012.
Originally, the neighbors were excited by the venture, anticipating a welcome bump in their property values. But for some residents of this small, middle-class town about 10 miles southeast of Springfield, the thrill turned to fear when they learned the project would also demand vast quantities of water, the Globe reported.
Now, they worry that maintaining the lush course could mean water shortages for nearby homes and a middle school across the street. The private club, now called GreatHorse, has asked the state for permission to occasionally use up to 820,000 gallons in a single day—roughly four times the amount of water needed daily to supply a town the size of Hampden, the Globe reported.
Other championship-caliber courses sometimes use as much water as GreatHorse has requested, but that level of consumption is more typical of clubs in arid climates, such as in Las Vegas and Phoenix. Courses in the Northeast generally use less water than those in other parts of the country, according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. TPC Boston, the only course in Massachusetts that regularly hosts a PGA Tour event, operates under a single-day cap of 310,000 gallons, the Globe reported.
GreatHorse officials emphasized that maximum withdrawals would be rare, probably only during prolonged summer dry spells. A second cap, regulating total consumption over the course of a year, would hold the club to a daily average of roughly 135,000 gallons—or 25 percent less than last year’s average at The Country Club in Brookline, the only course in the state that has staged a US Open, the Globe reported.
But Hampden residents, 80 of whom turned out for a recent public meeting about the water plan, fear their own wells could go dry. Every well in the area draws groundwater from the same source, the Connecticut River Basin, the Globe reported.
“There is a concern that operation of the clubhouse well as proposed could have a long-term effect on the groundwater level that could cause problems or failure of other wells in the vicinity,” John D. Flynn, a Hampden selectman and chairman of the Board of Health, wrote in a July 2 letter to the state’s environmental agency.
A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said it plans to administer a 10-day pump test of the club’s main well to gauge the impact of increased consumption on the water table and surrounding properties. Testing dates have not been set, the spokesman said, and a decision on the application is still several months off, the Globe reported.
GreatHorse officials consider the water permit one of the final steps in a dramatic transformation that included quadrupling the number of bunkers on the course and rebuilding all 18 greens. The 7,323-yard layout now looks nearly ready for the world’s best golfers. It has been mostly playable since a soft opening in May, but the official rechristening will come when work is finished, expected to be next month, the Globe reported.
Guy Antonacci said his family designed GreatHorse to be both luxurious and laid-back. A rustic, stone-and-wood clubhouse merges traditional country club comforts—sauna, pool, health club—with modern touches, including a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. A men’s locker room and lounge with deer heads on a wall also features lockers with built-in charging stations for electronic devices, the Globe reported.
Just off the bar, two high-tech simulators that appear pulled from a Golf Channel television set allow users to hit real balls down virtual fairways while a computer analyzes their swings. At every turn, horse-racing memorabilia adorn the walls. Jerry and Frank Antonacci are co-owners of USA Hauling & Recycling Inc. in Enfield, Conn., but they’re known in the world of high-brow sports as breeders of harness racing champions (thus the club’s name, GreatHorse), the Globe reported.
Project manager Jonathan Murray said GreatHorse has joined conservation efforts by installing rainwater catch basins to help with irrigation. Moreover, he said, in-house testing by the club makes him confident that a plan to raise the withdrawal limit of a well on the property won’t affect the club’s neighbors. He added that the club “will abide by whatever determination [the Department of Environmental Protection] makes on our water permit.”
But GreatHorse’s neighbors take little comfort in the state’s authority, because of what they consider the golf course’s history of flouting regulations. Last year, a group of 12 nearby residents sued GreatHorse for allegedly violating zoning laws with the removal of a 100-foot tree buffer that protected homes from wayward golf balls. GreatHorse has agreed to replant trees, the Globe reported.
During construction in 2013, the state fined the club $115,860 for encroaching on protected wetlands, the Globe reported.
“There’s a level of distrust that we have because that’s their pattern of behavior,” said Dorothy Simonds,whose group reported spending about $20,000 to fight the golf club in court. “They do what they want to do without getting permits, and they wait for people to complain.”
The neighbors also fear getting little help from town government in the event that GreatHorse overdraws from its well. The chairman of Hampden’s Board of Selectmen, Vincent Villamaino, downplayed the club’s prior infractions and said the Antonaccis are honorable people. Villamaino is a GreatHorse member, and his paving company is a club contractor, the Globe reported.
The city of Albuquerque, N.M.,its taxpayers, and golf courses are reaping the benefits of an increase in rainfall this year, the Albuquerque-based KRQE News 13 reported.
Summer is in full swing at the city’s four golf courses. “This year we’ve been very, very blessed with the amount of rainfall,” said David Salas, Golf Course Superintendent for the City of Albuquerque.
What was dry, is now lush with life. Video from 2012 shows a dry, brown landscape. Now, the metro is showing green as far as the eye can see. Ladera Golf Course was struggling two years ago. Tuesday, the course looked green and well-manicured after record breaking rain and an upgraded irrigation system, KRQE reported.
“The greener the property, they seem to enjoy it more,” said Salas.
More rain in the city, means more savings. “At this point year-to-date, we’ve saved approximately a little over 50-and-a-half million gallons of water,” explained Salas. That translates to about $70,000 taxpayers didn’t have to spend watering the city’s four golf courses to date, KRQE reported.
The City Park Maintenance Division estimates they saved more than 88 million gallons to water parks, which is nearly $200,000 in savings so far this year. “We try to be as water conscious as possible and certainly not irrigate if mother nature is taking care of it for us,” said Salas.
Salas told KRQE that automatic sensors throughout the city turn off watering systems when rain levels reach more than three-tenths of an inch within an hour. Supervisors also monitor irrigation, and try to refrain from watering during high winds, KRQE reported.
The city’s golf courses and parks have annual water budgets and pay costs to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. Salas said the hope is that the monsoon season continues to bring the welcome rain, KRQE reported.
However, city officials said the water and money saved so far, just like the rain, can quickly be absorbed. Funds budgeted for watering city parks and golf courses will go toward needed improvements and higher water rates, KRQE reported.
“There’s no better quality of water than rain water,” said Salas. “There’s a lot of good natural nutrients that you know any other source cannot provide.”
So far this year, Albuquerque has receive more than seven inches of rain, puttin the city 3.18 inches above average, KRQE reported.