The R&A - Working for Golf

Using Water Wisely

Golf must conserve water and access socially acceptable sources.

Water is a precious resource. A lack of water to meet daily needs is a reality today for one in three people around the world.  Water scarcity is one of the most urgent environmental issues facing the world today. Having access to water is essential for turf management but there is a moral obligation on us all to conserve and protect drinking water supplies.

Increasingly, there are legal obligations to meet that aim to reduce water consumption and prevent pollution of ground water. As a consequence of these pressures, obtaining water is going to cost a lot more.

Golf needs to understand this situation and make itself far less reliant on drinking water for irrigation and wash down purposes. In regions where water scarcity is reality, golf needs to free itself completely from the need to access drinking water supplies.

Where to get water?
There are a number of options for golf to find alternative sources to drinking water, for example:

  • rain/storm water harvesting. Adelaide, Australia is a remarkable example of how golf can not only make use of what would be a form of ‘waste’ water, but also how a golf project makes a notable contribution to community water management
  • drainage water recycling
  • grey or recycled water from surrounding communities. Some courses in southern Spain get 100% of their irrigation water from this source
  • desalination. This is not a clear cut option as municipal desalinated supplies can be used for drinking and diverting them to golf courses might be controversial.

None of these options come cheap and can be difficult to retro-fit to established courses. Significant investment is needed in supply pipe networks internally and in storage facilities if rain/storm or drainage water harvesting and recycling is to be feasible. Getting water to golf courses from recycling or desalination plants is likely to be a major logistical problem for many. Even those courses built within real estate intended to provide grey water are not guaranteed an adequate supply. Economic recession and seasonal occupancy can result in a shortfall of available grey water.   Some courses have their own desalination plants but these are expensive to install and to run.  Powering such plants can be a sustainability issue in itself.

Reduce what you use, wherever you get it from

Courses in the cooler climes may use 500,000 m3 in a dry year, next to nothing in a wet one.  In warmer parts of the world, golf courses can consume around 0.5 million cubic metres of water each year.  It is estimated that desert courses in the USA each soak up a million gallons a day; the equivalent water consumption of an American family of four in four years.  In 2004, WWF estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 cubic meters of water per hectare were pumped out of freshwater supplies to keep golf courses green in south-east Spain; one course could supply a town of 12,000 inhabitants with enough water for a whole year.  It is these comparisons with an individuals need for water that gives golf a bad name.  This is not always justified as many of these courses will have been, or will now be, using water that is not deemed fit for human consumption.  Having said that, the amounts quoted are staggering and with water cost set to rise considerably, for all standards of supply, such levels of consumption may well be financially unsustainable. For the sake of the economic survival of golf courses and the reputation of the game, every course must take a responsible look at how much water it uses and make every effort to reduce its need.

‘Green’ is not great

There is still a perception that golf courses need to be lush and green to be healthy and to provide a great golfing experience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The philosophy of ‘firm and dry’ in relation to course management produces first class golf, turf that is far more resilient and durable and reduces our requirement for irrigation water. This does not equate to no watering, merely applying just enough to create a course that gives the golfer endlessly variable options for shot selection throughout the year, and a course that takes on a more natural look. The main difficulty is achieving this change in the philosophy towards turf management and how to present a course. Many owners and committees are difficult to persuade, believing that their golfers want and expect green and lush conditions throughout the course year-round. Golf’s governing authorities and others who believe in a firm and running game sell this concept on the basis of it being good for golfers, good for business (it can save a substantial amount of water and other resources), good for the environment and good for the rest of society.

There are plenty of other ways in which golf courses can save water:

  • changing grasses to less water reliant species, as undertaken by a course in Italy with a subsequent reduction of 60% in water use
  • contouring of ground to shed water to collection areas
  • investing in efficient irrigation
  • monitoring water use
  • reducing turfed areas that require irrigation
  • planting native, drought-resistant vegetation to the rough.

Act now

The use of water is probably the biggest challenge for course managers now and into the future. Many in regions where water is scarce have implemented capital investment to secure sustainable supplies and practices to conserve this precious resource. Even where drinking water is not currently scarce, its use for golf will become increasingly restricted and it will become ever more expensive. Act now to secure your future supply and make sure you use water wisely.