This is the first of three stories that highlight measures being taken by golf courses around the country to mitigate the issues of rising costs and restricted access to water. The USGA Water Resource Center of USGA.org contains more valuable information about golf’s use of water. You can read the second installment here and the third installment here.
Droughts may come and go, but issues surrounding water use in the golf industry are here to stay.
Growing demand, rising costs and heated political debates are making access to irrigation water increasingly expensive and unpredictable. At the same time, golfers have high expectations for consistent playing conditions and affordable green fees.
The USGA is helping courses meet these challenges through its decades of support for turfgrass research at universities around the country. This research has helped create turf varieties that provide excellent playing conditions while using less water in a wide range of climates. A growing number of golf courses are converting their primary playing areas to these new grasses.
Some of the most successful examples – particularly from a budgetary standpoint – are golf courses that have converted playing areas from cool-season grasses such as bentgrass and ryegrass to warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass. In areas where water is scarce or summer growing conditions are challenging, bermudagrass is a popular alternative. Its drought tolerance and durability have long been recognized, but concerns about playing quality, winter color and the ability to survive in a variety of environments have limited the use of bermudagrass in many areas of the U.S.
Fortunately, plant breeders have developed new bermudagrass varieties that address many of these concerns, and the growing need to save water and resources makes these varieties an increasingly popular choice. Dr. Michael Kenna, director of USGA Green Section Research, explains the potential water savings: “Suppose your golf course needs around 12 inches of irrigation for fairways during the summer months. The total for the summer would be around 30 million gallons of irrigation water. Converting to a warm-season grass would save 20 percent, or 6 million gallons of water.”
The improved cold tolerance of varieties such as Latitude 36 and Northbridge has made bermudagrass a viable alternative for golf courses as far north as Philadelphia. Elliott Dowling, a USGA agronomist, has advised several courses in the Northeast as they converted tees and fairways to bermudagrass.
“Although improved cold-tolerant bermudagrass varieties have limitations during extremely challenging winters, their summer condition, playability, water savings and reduced inputs outweigh that concern,” said Dowling.