Discussions about water and golf often focus on water shortages, but many golf courses find themselves dealing with a different issue: too much water during and after rain events. Recent hurricanes have brought devastating flooding, but more typical rainstorms can also cause serious issues. Stormwater management is a significant challenge for golf courses and communities everywhere, and the more extreme weather patterns of recent years are not making it any easier.
According to a 2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, “The prevalence of extreme single-day precipitation events remained fairly steady between 1910 and the 1980s, but has risen substantially since then.” The EPA further noted that nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events have occurred since 1990. Extreme rain events generate more runoff and flooding because soils cannot absorb the water quickly enough.
Growing communities also contribute to the challenges of stormwater management. Impervious surfaces such as roofs, roads, driveways and parking lots all increase the amount of runoff, adding to the risk of flooding and reducing water quality as runoff gathers various contaminants.
As communities work to improve stormwater management, golf courses can play a valuable role. Dr. Michael Kenna, director of USGA Green Section Research, explained how golf courses can help themselves and their communities handle the increasing demands of modern stormwater management.
“Golf courses can gather stormwater and slow the flow before it continues downstream, lessening its destructive power,” said Kenna. “Golf courses also can help filter and clean stormwater. USGA-funded research has demonstrated that stormwater runoff exiting a golf course property is often cleaner than the stormwater entering the course. The key is the retention time created by swales, creeks, wetlands and ponds designed into the golf course.”
The Murray Parkway Golf Course in Murray, Utah, provides an excellent example of the role that golf courses can play in community stormwater management. The city-owned public golf facility is consistently one of the busiest in Utah, while also serving an important stormwater management function.
“Stormwater from Interstate 215, one of the major highways in our area, is piped through a series of ponds on the golf course,” said David Carruth, golf course superintendent at Murray Parkway. “The first pond captures any silt and trash in the water, and it also has a feature that allows us to contain oils from the roadway. A secondary pond provides another level of filtration before water flows into a third pond that we draw our irrigation water from. Between ponds the water travels through a surface water system that is planted with aquatic vegetation to provide yet another level of filtration.”