The Ashland, Ore. course was once able to rely on Talent Irrigation Water, but dry winters and even drier summers have made the water more expensive. Trucking water in from a nearby water supply would be expensive, while drilling a well for the golf course would also be expensive and might not provide enough water. Using treated wastewater is an option, but would require permits, time and more expense.
A prolonged drought that shows no sign of relenting has Ashland, Ore.’s Oak Knoll Golf Course struggling to survive, the Medford Mail Tribune reported. The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission and a golf course subcommittee are now readying Oak Knoll for a new reality—the golf course must change to survive, although how it will change is the question.
The subcommittee held a study session to create a recommendation to take to the APRC, which had a study session of its own, the Mail Tribune reported. At the subcommittee meeting, commissioners, speakers and Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black focused on two main points: affirming their dedication to the course and discussing how to keep it alive.
“We do not know that the golf course has to close, what we know is that we cannot afford to water the golf course with city water,” Black said.
Oak Knoll was once able to rely on Talent Irrigation Water, but dry winters and even drier summers have made the water more expensive, the Mail Tribune reported. In 2020, the course spent $26,247 on water. In 2021, the cost rose to $49,046.
The projected cost for 2022 was $96,377, but to date the course has already consumed $78,377 worth of water, the Mail Tribune reported. While watering with TID water is no longer possible, a viable alternative remains elusive.
Trucking water in from the Medford water supply would be expensive, the Mail Tribune reported. Drilling a well for the golf course would also be expensive and might not be able to provide enough water.
The committee discussed using treated wastewater, but that water moves from the wastewater treatment plant into Bear Creek, the Mail Tribune reported. Redirecting any of that water would require permits, would take time, and the cost of installing the infrastructure needed to redirect water would be another major expense.
The drought presents a problem that is difficult enough for household gardens, farms and orchards, but it’s even more stark for a golf course, the Mail Tribune reported.
There are some who would rather see Oak Knoll Golf Course become a small housing development, the Mail Tribune reported, or for the course to simply disappear and the land go to something else.
“I can’t tell you how many people say this is an elitist sport,” said APRC Commissioner Jim Lewis. “No, you have to look at it as an amenity for the community.”
Lewis listed several ways Oak Knoll has tried to become something everyone can enjoy in some way, the Mail Tribune reported. The course has begun offering itself as a wedding venue, it has monthly Audubon bird walks, it will soon be allowing foot golf, and people are encouraged to take walks on the course, Lewis said.
Black reminded everyone that Oak Knoll is an APRC property, and golf course or not it will remain an APRC property, the Mail Tribune reported. Property ownership means maintenance, especially for Oak Knoll.
“Closing it doesn’t solve the water problem,” Black said. “We have to be sure there isn’t fire danger for the neighbors of the golf course. It would still need to be useful for walking, it can’t be overgrown with blackberries.”
Closing the course was not considered at the meeting, but keeping the course open requires more than fighting through one more dry season, the Mail Tribune reported. The golf course must adapt to a changing environment, which is complicated by the city’s budget shortfall.
“We’re not just in a drought of water, we’re in a drought of funding as well,” Black said. “We’re working on making budget cuts up to $500,000, that’s up to 10% of our budget.”
All city departments have been directed to cut 5% to 10% of their budgets, the Mail Tribune reported. How the cuts will be absorbed by the departments is currently under consideration.
The cost to redesign a golf course, much like the cost to change how the golf course obtains its water, is daunting, the Mail Tribune reported.
“Go get a golf course designer, and you’re going to have to kick your checkbook over to him,” Lewis said.
Committee members acknowledged at the meeting that while the funds remain to be found, the golf course must be redesigned somehow, the Mail Tribune reported. Ideas discussed including relandscaping and planting drought-tolerant plants, watering some parts of the course more than others, or incorporating different kinds of ground into the course rather than the typical lush green.
“We’re kinda used to hitting off of dirt, when it’s late in the summer,” said Brett Deforest, APRC administration analyst, who suggested using the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort as a model.
Black stressed that going over budget was not an option, and the course is already creeping toward it, the Mail Tribune reported. To fund the proposed projects, grants and public donations were discussed, along with raising user fees.
Black said he wouldn’t recommend taking funding from another part of APRC operations, such as the senior center or the North Mountain Park Nature Center, the Mail Tribune reported. But, he said, APRC commissioners do take public comments.
The meeting closed with a motion to keep the public aware and prepared for the reality that the course may close, while doing everything in the committee’s power to keep it open, the Mail Tribune reported. And if it must close, to try partial closures first, such as keeping open only the driving range or the practice putting and chipping areas.