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The Southern California Golf and Water Summit was a huge success. It brought together an eclectic group of golf industry professionals, water wholesalers and water retailers to discuss water availability challenges for golf courses in Southern California. Professional golfer Sahith Theegala kicked off the morning with an appreciative address to superintendents and water policy makers in Southern California. A key to the success of this summit was the broad background of the presenters and those in attendance. This wasn’t just a typical technical education session on ways to manage water, this was a day that brought together superintendents, architects, agronomists, researchers and water policy makers to investigate water issues and possible solutions from all angles.

The keynote address came from Deven Upadhyay from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The MWD is a regional wholesaler and the largest supplier of treated water in the United States. Upadhyay stated that half of the water golf courses use within the MWD’s jurisdiction is imported from Northern California or the Colorado River. The other half is from regional sources – including wells, recycled water and captured surface water. Upadhyay’s overarching message to golf facilities was to develop a direct relationship with their retail water provider. Know the source of your water, not just the retailer. If the retailer sources water from the Colorado River for example, this source is in jeopardy and may very well impact your supply and/or your water rates. Other sources may be more reliable, even during drought years. It was good to hear that the MWD is proactively working to secure alternative water sources and Upadhyay highlighted an important project to grow the availability of recycled water.

Dr. Brian Unruh from the University of Florida summarized the GCEP Water Use Survey, focusing on data for the southwestern U.S. He also apologized for receiving nearly 80 inches of rain this year at his home in northern Florida! While overall golf course water use in the Southwest has decreased since data was first collected in 2005, the median water use on a per acre basis in 2005 was 3.43 acre feet per acre and it is 4.18 acre feet per acre in 2020. Clearly there is some work to do to reverse this trend. A bright spot is recycled water is being utilized at three times the rate of the national average and recycled water use has increased 8% in the Southwest since 2005. The primary hurdles for golf courses to increase recycled water use are lack of a reliable source and the absence of the supply infrastructure.

Justin Mandon, golf course superintendent from Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, California, discussed the facility’s success securing alternative water sources and, most notably, building an on-site treatment plant for recycled water that the club operates. Mandon recommended that every facility compile a water portfolio and secure several water sources if possible. He encouraged courses to be proactive and engage with the water retailer. He also emphasized the importance of knowing not only the water issues facing the course but those facing the entire community surrounding the golf course. The recycled water project at Pasatiempo was not easy, and the effort was bolstered by the help of two political lobbyists who helped push the project through to completion.

A rapid-fire session included me speaking on strategies courses can employ to reduce water use. Golf course superintendent Matt Muhlenbruch from Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles educated the group on how to use inground soil moisture sensors and drone technology to save water and improve golf course playability. The University of California, Riverside, turf group including Dr. Marta Pudzianowska and Dr. Jim Baird discussed breeding efforts to develop warm-season grasses that require less water and will retain green color and growth during the winter months. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage turf professionals to attend UC Riverside’s upcoming field day. The USGA Green Section’s new hire Dr. Matteo Serena finished up that session highlighting on-course research on subsurface drip irrigation that shows remarkable water savings of 50%-80% compared to overhead irrigation.

Josh Heptig, director of golf operations for San Luis Obispo County, gave a great presentation on public outreach and community engagement. Heptig routinely hosts 80-180 community residents on the golf courses to educate them about various topics, including monarch butterfly habitat, and through that has turned skeptics into lovers of golf. At Dairy Creek Golf Course, Heptig and the leadership group are considering closing the course one day a month and opening it up to the public as an open space offering community benefits. Residents love to see the 40 sheep roaming the out-of-play areas assisting with vegetation management.

The MWD rounded out the day by educating everyone on the Turf Rebate Program, the Recycled Water Program – which is anticipated to serve 500,000 households with water annually – and the Water Savings Incentive Program that allows courses to apply for grants if they adopt new projects and technologies to save water.

Craig Kessler, director of public affairs from the Southern California Golf Association, gave the final remarks in an eloquent way that only he can deliver. Kessler said that golf’s leaders came together at this event to forge a blueprint for the golf industry and policymakers to face this existential challenge and reduce golf’s water footprint in order to remain viable in this land of permanent drought.

Several resources were referenced in this update and are included here for your easy access:

West Region Agronomists:

Brian  Whitlark, senior consulting agronomist –

Cory Isom, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff