Where’s the water?: Golf courses keep water use lean yet green | SierraSun.com
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Where’s the water?: Golf courses keep water use lean yet green

Paul Raymore
Sierra Sun
Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunA fairway at the Northstar-at-Tahoe Golf Course.
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Throughout the water-starved West, golf course managers have often taken a lot of flack for maintaining acres upon acres of green grass in a natural environment that is often brown.

In Truckee and the surrounding communities, the low humidity and negligible summertime precipitation means that irrigation is a must in order to keep the fairways, tee boxes and greens on local courses lush and playable.

But that doesn’t mean that golf courses are “wasting” water, said Ed Taylor, Truckee Donner Public Utility District water utility director.

“The interesting thing is, especially the newer golf courses that are coming in are using very sophisticated monitoring systems so that they don’t over water,” he said.

Lahontan Golf Course Superintendent Kevin Breen agreed.

“It’s not in the best interest of anyone on a golf course to waste water,” he said, adding that Lahontan has tried to maintain all of the golf course’s surrounding as native vegetation capable of surviving on the annual precipitation provided by mother nature.

“There are no flower beds or expansive areas that are outside the recreational use of the golf course or are strictly decorative. And that goes a long way toward saving water,” Breen said.

Over at Old Greenwood, the man in charge of keeping the turf perfect, Director of Agronomy Joel Blaker, admits that golf courses do need a lot of water, especially during the hot summer months.

“In the Tahoe-Truckee region, we have about two and a half months of season that really requires some fairly intensive water usage,” Blaker said. “Because we have almost zero humidity, the plant can’t absorb any moisture from the air, so we rely on sprinkler systems to irrigate the turf.”

Sprinkler systems on Old Greenwood’s golf course cover almost 100 percent of the turf in order to ensure a nice playing surface, whereas in wetter parts of the country, 100 percent coverage isn’t always necessary.

“The other thing that drives water usage on golf courses is the golfing clientele that we have. They expect very good turf conditions, and in order to do that we have to water,” Blaker said.

Maintaining those turf conditions requires water ” approximately 90 million gallons of it last year to maintain Old Greenwood’s fairways, tees and greens. Although Blaker notes that during a golf course’s grow-in period ” typically the first two years the grass is growing ” the turf requires more water than after the roots have been well established.

Blaker said that Kentucky Bluegrass ” which is used on Old Greenwood’s fairways “- requires about one inch of water per week during the summertime, and Creeping Bentgrass ” used for the greens and tee boxes ” needs a bit less than that.

So while golf courses do use significant amounts of water, golf course managers typically use sophisticated irrigation management systems to determine when and where exactly it is needed.

“I’m a certified irrigation auditor; I have a degree in meteorology; I have a degree in horticulture; I am out here every day watching the moisture levels; and I have an expensive, sophisticated computer system to control the water,” Breen said.

“And, if I were to draw a line between someone who’s being conservative and someone who’s not, I think that you have a lot of homeowners who have put in lawns, and a lot of businesses that have put in decorative plantings, who don’t have the type of resources or professional education that I have or that most golf course superintendents have.

“It doesn’t benefit me to overuse water. Water costs money, the grass isn’t as healthy … So it’s not in our interest to waste water. And we work ve


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