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The Next Wave: Emerging Trends to Make Golf Greener September 14, 2023 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By Danielle Vick

While golf's water efficiency has improved markedly, there's still progress that needs to be made. (USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)

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The challenge to meet golfer expectations while continuing to maximize the efficiency of water resources is only going to get more difficult. While the golf industry has been making great strides in reducing water use, progress must continue for decades to come. USGA agronomists Brian Whitlark and Cole Thompson expand on some emerging trends that may shape golf’s future.

Remove Turf. This is a hot topic nationwide. Turf removal benefits players by still offering their desired experience. In fact, Whitlark believes that it’s an improvement. “Turf reduction conserves resources while also enhancing the golfer experience. On courses that have reduced their acres of irrigated turf, there is more color, texture and variety in the landscape around you. It’s a more interesting visual experience.”

Reduce Overseeding. While some courses eliminate overseeding entirely and allow their courses to go dormant in the winter, many courses are choosing to go the partial route. A 90-acre course might only overseed 40-50 acres, saving significantly on water while also providing green, durable, overseeded acreage for winter golfers.

Alternative Grasses. Courses that eliminate overseeding altogether are wise to upgrade to one of the newest grass varieties that offer a durable playing surface. Zoysiagrass is an emerging variety that can compete with bermuda, even surpassing it in its dormant texture and winter color. It also offers a robust surface that holds up well to chipping and divots. Downsides are that it requires more water than bermudagrass and can be expensive to sod.

Invest in Technology. New innovations can improve the resource efficiency of the entire industry, such as:

    · Drone imagery. Comparing daily overhead images allows a manager to make watering decisions based on the big picture while still allowing for managing specific areas of the course on a case-by-case basis.

    · Soil moisture sensors. While this technology has been around for a long time, improved accuracy allows course managers to make up-to-the-minute decisions about water use and application.

    · Drip irrigation. This ancient technique pushes the limits of how we think turf should be irrigated. Research shows that certain areas of a course, such as tees, are perfectly suited for subsurface drip irrigation, saving 50 to 80 percent of water while reducing weed germination and soil compaction.

The Golfer’s Responsibility

The relationship between superintendent and golfer is like any other – it can be improved by communication and compromise. For each group to thrive long-term, it’s best to open up the conversation about how to ensure golf remains a vital and viable part of the future.

“As an industry, the hard truth is that we can use less water if we commit to playing on a brown course in winter,” said Thompson. “If golfers were to get fully on board and meet directly with their superintendent who is asking for a stop to overseeding, it would be the best-case scenario.”

Despite public perception, Thompson believes most golfers want their courses to be as resource-efficient as possible. If they are willing to accept and even seek out courses that are working to be good environmental stewards, a lot of superintendents’ tough decisions could be alleviated.

“Often, superintendents and course owners make these decisions based on what they anticipate the golfer’s expectations to be,” said Whitlark. “That means, to some extent, golfers are driving water use on their home courses. It also means they can help drive conservation efforts.”