This is from the Wallstreetjournal. Not only golf courses soak up scarce water but so do millions of private lawns and they equally need to be regulated. I wonder how those against any government regulation suggest we solve the problem of scarce water resources?
By JOHN PAUL NEWPORT
Play It as It Dries
May 3, 2008; Page W1
Last December, I got a taste of what golfers are likely to experience, if not quite so starkly, in the years ahead. I played a course in Georgia whose fairways, due to strict drought restrictions across the northern third of the state, hadn't been watered in months.
How should the government balance water conservation and business risk? How do courses play in dry areas? Share your thoughts.The look was a little eerie. Unlike links courses in the British Isles, which are meant to play hard, fast and usually brown, this course at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro was designed for lushness, but now only the putting surfaces were green. The fairways had not been overseeded for winter, and everything was parched.
I can't say the round wasn't fun. Our drives rolled out to ego-boosting distances and our lies on the dormant turf were usually quite good. But it wasn't what one expects 70 miles west of the famously green course at Augusta National (which, luckily, is in a county that escaped the most stringent water limitations).
The drought in northern Georgia illustrates the delicate balance between rampant development and natural resources. Metropolitan Atlanta, in the heart of the drought region, has doubled in population since 1980, to more than five million, while its main source of water, Lake Lanier, has stayed the same. Twenty years ago, this drought probably wouldn't have forced city golf courses to curtail watering much, if at all.
The Future of Golf? Views of dry fairways at Georgia's Reynolds Plantation in December.
"What's happening in Georgia and elsewhere raises important issues that golf has to consider," says Greg Lyman, the national director of environmental programs at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. "Every gallon of water has economic value, and communities have to ask themselves: 'What is the value of golf?' "
As an industry, golf is girding for battle on water issues. Two weeks ago, top executives from 11 major golf organizations, including U.S. Golf Association Executive Director David Fay and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, assembled in Washington for the first-ever National Golf Day. But their purpose wasn't to celebrate the game so much as to present a unified lobbying front.
The trigger issue was the government's relief effort after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Storm-damaged courses, it seems, were lumped in with massage parlors and casinos and declared ineligible for federal aid. That isn't proper respect, the golf honchos declared, for an industry that they documented creates two million jobs and generates $195 billion in economic activity.
Establishing this perspective on golf as an economic powerhouse will be central to the game's ongoing advocacy work, most particularly when it comes to environmental issues and the competition for water resources with agriculture and other industries.
Georgia's Reynolds Plantation
In Georgia, it has already begun. "We calculate that golf courses have had to cut back 97% on their water usage in this drought, while other water-using industries were only asked to reduce by 10%," says Mike Crawford, president of the Georgia chapter of the superintendents association and the course superintendent at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga. "We want to be a good partner, but that's not fair. Golf is a $3.5 billion industry in this state."
Nationwide, golf-course irrigation consumes less than half of 1% of the 408 billion gallons of water used daily, a golf-industry report concludes.
Even so, that's a lot of water -- two billion gallons a day, or enough to satisfy the household needs of more than two-thirds of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. And it's clear from the pioneering work that some courses have done in reducing water usage how much less water golf overall could get by on.
Four years ago, for instance, the Olympic Club and two other courses in the San Francisco area collaborated on a project to reclaim wastewater before it was discharged into the ocean. The courses now irrigate exclusively with this nonpotable "gray water," as do 12% of U.S. courses.
Many courses have also scaled back the acreage they maintain as turf, substituting low-maintenance vegetation in areas where golfers are unlikely to hit balls. Moisture-metering systems, coupled with watering systems that use as many as 3,000 computer-controlled sprinkler heads, allow some superintendents to spot-water only when and where the turf needs it.
Scientists are also developing breeds of grass that require less water, such as paspalum, which can tolerate saltwater.
Some of these techniques don't make financial sense for courses in areas where water is still relatively abundant. In the arid Southwest, however, they are often the only way golf hangs on.
"When I moved to Las Vegas 21 years ago, there were 15 courses and a population of maybe 600,000," recalls Bill Rohret, the superintendent at that city's 45-hole Angel Park Golf Club. "Lake Mead [the city's main water supply] was filled to the brim and water was cheap. Now we have 50 courses and a population three times as big and Lake Mead is 100 feet down. People's attitude about water has completely changed."
Las Vegas effectively banned construction of new golf courses four years ago and the local water district's "cash-for-grass" program pays $1.50 for every square foot of turf that courses replace with native desert plants. Angel Park, which at one point was capable of pumping three million gallons of water a day, now uses less than two-thirds what it did and by October will have removed 80 acres of its original 260 acres of irrigated turf -- including the grassy medians in the parking lot.
Courses maintained with less water may look different, but that doesn't make them less playable. The only change we everyday players have to make is in our expectations. To my eye, the wall-to-wall green, Augusta National look is a bit tired, if not decadent. The new aesthetic in golf design, exemplified by the courses of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, is more naturalistic, with contrasting colors created by shaggy native grasses instead of thick artificial rough and other unmaintained areas that can double as wildlife habitat.
Even the fairways don't have to be flawlessly green to provide a fun round. St. Andrews in Scotland is seldom deep green, but to most golfers it remains among the most beautiful courses in the world.
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