How California golf courses are adapting to new water restrictions


Water restrictions in the West are becoming common as the mega-drought intensifies and reservoir levels continue to recede, even at recreational facilities that require large amounts of irrigation.

In Southern California, golf courses are altering the way they tend to the green in the wake of new state mandates and forecasts that climate change will cause drought conditions to persist.

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom implored the state’s largest water providers to combat the drought and better engage customers to ensure all residents do their part to save water. But California law distinguishes between ornamental and functional turf, with parks, sports fields, cemeteries and golf courses falling under the functional turf category, allowing them to practice “alternative means” to comply with rules and restrictions, Craig Kessler , director of public affairs. for the Southern California Golf Association, he told ABC News. Functional turf is responsible for about 9% of the state’s water use, according to the California Department of Water Resources.


Golf courses are given water budgets, based on state codes, and can alter the day of the week or time of week they water the turf, Kessler said.

Additionally, although varying levels of drought often determine household water budgets, golf courses are not included in those ordinances. For example, in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power service area, which is home to nearly three dozen golf courses, a Tier 3 drought ordinance targets a 30% savings in household water use. Kessler said. However, the golf industry is operating “permanently” under a Tier 2 drought, which has resulted in 45% less water use since 2009, and is not required to step up with the rest of the service area. .

In the Pasadena Water and Power service area, golf courses must reduce their water use by 15% or find alternative ways to make up that difference, Jeffrey Kightlinger, the utility’s interim general manager, told The Associated Press. ABC Los Angeles station KABC. .

Los Angeles City Golf was awaiting an agreement with the Department of Water and Power on what percentage of water reduction they would face, Rick Reinschmidt, interim golf manager for the 12 Los Angeles city courses, told ABC News.

Eight of the city’s fields are irrigated with recycled water, which is not covered by state ordinances, but they are irrigated at a minimum 25% reduction from normal routine, Reinschmidt said.

“But we’re not exempting ourselves,” he said. “We are cutting the same as if we were not irrigating with recycled water.”

Modern “extraordinarily efficient” irrigation systems have been installed in the fields, as opposed to automatic sprinklers, to help with savings, Kessler said. But “in times like these,” when water shortages are a concern, other contingency plans are in place to maintain courses to “maintain a semblance of playable condition,” Kessler said.

Fields have begun to replace turf with warm-season grasses, which require much less water, and have also eliminated overseeding, except in the desert where it’s necessary because it uses a lot of water, Kessler said. Courses are also investing in redesigning irrigation systems so they no longer cover areas where a substantial amount of turf was removed, Kessler said.

Reinschmidt said landscaping managers at LA City Golf have been “killing grass everywhere” and turning off sprinklers “everywhere that aren’t in the game.” They have also prioritized identifying and repairing leaks to further limit water waste, Reinschmidt said.

Millions of people have taken up golf as claustrophobia created by the pandemic forced people to recreate outdoors, Kessler said. But the golf community “has been down this road before” and doesn’t seem to mind the occasional darkening of the courses, he said.

“Golfers are very understanding,” Kessler said. “They recognize that it’s not going to be optimal at a time like this.”

The only observations Reinschmidt has witnessed are comparisons between the green of golf courses and the surrounding vegetation, which is mostly dry and brown, he said.

But with advanced agronomic practices, golfers may be surprised as course conditions improve despite a worsening drought, Brandon Fox, PGA director of golf for the Rose Bowl Stadium, told KABC.

For now, the dimming is likely to continue, Fox said.

“Brown is the new green,” Fox said. “We said that a couple of years ago.”

The golf community is also ready for additional contingency plans that can be put in place should water restrictions start to seep into Level 4 or 5, such as increasing the use of recycled water, Kessler said, adding that much of the Southern California has accepted a future of “permanent drought.”

“But that is in the hands of mother nature,” he said. “It is beyond our ability to control.”