What Drought Restrictions Mean For Golfers

By Bud White, director, Mid-Continent Region
June 23, 2011

The drought has a grip on golf courses that many have never seen.  It is affecting turf and tree health on practically all courses in the lower Mid-Continent Region. 

These conditions require a significant change in course management:

  • Responsible water conservation
  • Water rationing
  • Protecting turf and trees that are in survival mode
  • Maintaining playability as well as possible


First of all, aesthetics are out the window.  Any golfer who is upset about brown areas on the course has not been outside.  Superintendents have courses in survival mode, plain and simple, and their programs must be supported by management and golfers alike. 

This drought level requires special maintenance practices to protect turf and trees, including raising cutting heights, adding potash to fertility programs, watering as deeply as water limitations allow, using water bags on key trees, and, the biggest one, restricting carts.  Golf carts can impose severe damage in drought conditions, even on bermudagrass, and as a result, a certain amount of cart restriction is essential in such severe conditions.

Another important planning requirement is to maintain water availability through July and August if quantities are limited.  Many superintendents are accustomed to balancing water availability in August, but this drought has forced some courses to implement water rationing ever since April or May.

As discussed in the June 6th Mid-Continent regional update, water applications can be reduced in fairways and roughs with no significant impact to playability, only aesthetics.  These restrictions are based on regulatory constraints imposed on the course.  Water bags are used on important trees, since rough irrigation will be the most restricted water level.  The remaining order of priority for irrigation scheduling is greens, surrounds, tees, landing areas and then fairways.  Raising the cutting height helps maintain better root and rhizome health, and increases the ability for the bermudagrass to go semi-dormant or dormant as a survival mode.  Remember, irrigation systems supplement rainfall – not replace it.  During significant drought, no system can keep up with soil moisture in all areas. 

Restricting cart traffic protects the turf by reducing stress and compaction on the turf, both above and below ground.  Maintenance traffic also is more restricted for the same reasons.

Superintendents and golfers alike must plan for next fall and winter if this drought persists throughout the summer.  As bermudagrass hardens off in the fall for dormancy, drought conditions can significantly impede the buildup of roots and rhizomes to withstand winter.  Therefore, traffic restrictions and raising cutting heights will have to be implemented sooner than early fall for bermudagrass protection. 

Golf course superintendents need golfer understanding and support now, as much as they may have ever needed it.  This is a difficult time, with no immediate end in sight.  Superintendents are looking desperately to prevent turf loss, and the focus on grooming, bunker care, etc. must take a back seat.  Do your part to protect your investment and let your superintendents know that they have your full support. 

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, contact the Mid-Continent regional offices at: Ty McClellan at tmcclellan@usga.org or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at budwhite@usga.org or (972) 662-1138. 


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