Golf course properties in the Modesto, Calif., area are preparing for decreased water availability as the Sierra snowpack, the source for about a third of the state’s water supply each spring, is at its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960. Some courses have embraced the circumstance, with Stevinson Ranch Golf Club owner George Kelley telling his superintendents that “brown is beautiful. The grass is not going to die, it’s going to dry out and the course will play firm.”
Officials in the Modesto, Calif., area are addressing potential issues as the state experiences one of the driest winters on record, and golf courses prepare for a water crisis, the Modesto Bee reported.
The Sierra snowpack, the source for about a third of the state’s water supply each spring, is about 12 percent of average. It’s the lowest level since electronic record-keeping began in 1960, the Bee reported.
Against such a dire prognosis, golfers brace for brown fairways, baked greens and more firm conditions, the Bee reported.
Steve Lumpkin, the city of Modesto’s interim director of the Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department, will huddle with former director Bob Quintella to determine how to deal with potential golf water shortages during the hot-weather months, the Bee reported.
Lumpkin believes Dryden Park and Creekside, both irrigated through well water, should be OK. More problematic is Creekside, which leans hard on the ponds bordering the 18th fairway, the Bee reported.
“We’ve already reduced parks water by 30 percent in recent years,” Lumpkin said. “We’re very concerned about Creekside. If we don’t have that water, we’ll have to subsidize with city water and we’ll no doubt incur additional costs.”
The average California golf course uses 250 to 450 acre-feet of water per year, according to studies by the United States Golf Association. One acre-foot—one acre of ground covered by water one foot deep—represents 326,000 gallons, the Bee reported.
Many golf courses have been involved in water conservation for years and even decades. Recycling water, more prudent drainage, holding ponds, modernized irrigation systems and drought-tolerant grasses all have helped. One course in Santa Clara County saved more than $300,000 a year by cutting its water use by 20 percent, according to the USGA, the Bee reported.
The USGA has worked since 1982 to develop new grasses that use less water and require less pesticide use. Growing more popular is the use of effluent, or treated wastewater. Castle Oaks in Ione has irrigated with wastewater since its opening in 1994. Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland supplements water from the nearby lake with wastewater, the Bee reported.
Stevinson Ranch Golf Club, arguably the area’s most environmentally sensitive golf course property, will curtail its water use by at least 30 percent. Owner George Kelley believes it won’t be a bad thing, the Bee reported.
“As I’ve told my superintendent many times, brown is beautiful. We’re a links a course, and I don’t mind some baked-out roughs,” Kelley said. “The grass is not going to die, it’s going to dry out and the course will play firm.”
Kelley also is the CEO and founder of Greenway Golf, a course maintenance company that tends to 18 properties nationally. One of the 18-hole courses at the company’s 45-hole Chuck Corica Golf Complex in Alameda will be converted from rye grass to hybrid bermuda fairways, the greens to bent-grass and fescue roughs. President Marc Logan, a turf expert, said that will reduce water consumption by 40 percent, the Bee reported.
“We have products that will help water penetration and hold water within the root zone,” Logan said. “The general public doesn’t understand that just because turf is off-color, it is not dead. There is a big difference between surface quality and color. The idea is to produce the best playing surface.”
Opposite that school of thought are golfers who insist on lush green grass year-round. Unfortunately for them, we’re walking into an era where that might not be possible, the Bee reported.
Bermuda, which goes dormant during the winter, is the right choice for turfgrass that requires only minimal water. “If I would build another course in the Valley, I would use bermuda rather than rye grass,” Kelley said.