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El Caballero Playing Its Part in Water Conservation Efforts April 30, 2018 | Tarzana, Calif. By David Shefter, USGA

Removing 5.5 acres of turf allowed El Caballero superintendent Doug Meadows to cut 2 percent of the club's water usage. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

Ask a common person about precious commodities and you’re likely to get a myriad of responses.

Diamonds, gold, oil or maybe even food.

But ask a golf course superintendent the same question and the answer will likely always be the same.


And in regions such as Southern California, it’s an issue that challenges agronomists on a daily basis.

Finding solutions isn’t easy, especially in an area plagued by drought. But that doesn’t mean golf courses, including El Caballero Country Club, site of the 4th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, aren’t looking to tackle the problem.

Recently, many have removed turf from areas that don’t receive much play. In fact, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offered major incentives for turf removal. In the past 10 years, the utility company provided rebates to courses to replace turf with native drought-tolerant plants or waste areas.

Pat Gross, the director, West Region, for the USGA Green Section, said between 25 and 50 Southern California golf courses have followed that plan. Some courses removed as much as 30 acres of turf.

Seven years ago, El Caballero applied and received a $300,000 rebate to take out 5½ acres of turf on four of its holes. Once the two-year project was completed, El Caballero trimmed 2 percent of its water usage. The cost to water its turf remains the maintenance department’s biggest budget line – 30 percent according to superintendent Doug Meadows – but when it costs $3,000 per acre to maintain healthy turf, every bit of savings counts.

Meadows and his team of 21 staff members undertook the project themselves. They wanted to ensure that these non-turf areas still were aesthetically pleasing for members and their guests.

“We didn’t use any drip irrigation,” said the 53-year-old Meadows, who just celebrated his 20th anniversary at El Caballero in March. “We hand-watered the first year and after that let them go. It turned out really nice.”

To receive the rebate, Meadows had to show that the plants were drought tolerant.

The process began with killing the turf with Roundup and then stripping it away. Once the plants were installed, the maintenance workers applied 4 inches of mulch. They even added some flowers to “make those areas pop,” said Meadows.

But this was only a start for the San Fernando Valley club. Plans are in the works for more renovations that will continue to save money through sustainable environmental practices.

Meadows said the club is beginning to contact architectural firms that will maintain the design features of the work Robert Trent Jones Sr. did in 1963, while also modernizing the layout. Plans include the removal of some trees and cart paths. Meadows also wants to replace the common bermudagrass with a hybrid that will eventually eliminate the need to overseed every fall with rye grass. That would save the club $115,000 to $120,000 of additional fertilizer and further reduce water usage.

“October is a great time of year to play golf and we have to close for three weeks [for overseeding],” said Meadows. “And then our membership is on cart paths for another month. It’s a lot of lost revenue for the club.

“We’d like to take out the cool-season grasses and keep the warm-season grasses.”

That not only saves labor costs and time, but also conserves water.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at


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