The California Drought, Golf, and Water Conservation


28 August 2016 (Pasadena, CA) In 2012 while in the Las Vegas area to deliver a series of lectures, a colleague of mine asked if I wanted to take a drive to Hoover Dam. I had never been there and was curious to see one of the greatest man-made dams in the world. Sitting on the Colorado River, a major water source for Southern California, the dam backs up a body water  known as Lake Mead. As we stood on a bridge that ran over the dam, my colleague pointed out the water level in the lake (pictured above). As you can see from the photo, the water level was way below normal level. Today, in 2016, Lake Mead is at 39% capacity and that is a major concern for a state in the midst of an apocalyptic-like drought. California residents have been tasked to conserve water and are fined when they do not heed the mandate. In Pasadena, CA residents were/are allowed two water days for lawn upkeep. In the middle of our usually hot summer, that number was reduced to one day of lawn upkeep. A a result, the browning of Pasadena and other California cities is well apparent. So the question we should ask as golfers is, what has the game done to conserve water in the midst of a drought when the impression many non-golfers have is: why are golf courses green while my lawn and local green areas are brown? Isn’t golf a game of leisure and isn’t the upkeep of courses a luxury?  Perhaps, but the game of golf is vital to the California economy netting almost $6,000,000,000 annually and employing over 130,000 Californians. Thus, the industry cannot just fade away as a perceived “leisure” sport (NPR, Morning Edition, 16 April 2015). Secondly, the game of golf has been the greatest saver of water over the last two decades in response to California’s depleted water resources. How has the game accomplished this exemplary conservation effort? The simple answer is: multiple ways. Take for instance a course in North Central California, Pasatiempo (, designed by world-renown golf architect Alister McKenzie in 1928. I had the opportunity to play Pasatiempo in 2013 and was surprised to see the introduction of waste areas in the modern re-conceptualization of the course. Green tee areas required drives to traverse brown “waste” areas as well as negotiate several brown lateral hazards to find lush green fairways. Target golf if you will. Water is especially scarce in the Northern Central region of California and Pasatiempo was a pioneer in water conservation early on. Now, brown waste areas are the norm on many California courses. Some even taking on the fairway characteristics of a Scottish Links course in the dead of summer. Watering golf courses in California has become an area-specific strategy. Secondly, researches in conjunction with course greens-keepers have introduced heat tolerant types of grasses that require less water as well as salt-tolerant grasses that allow for the use of slightly filtrated salt water. This strategy is nothing short of brilliant from a technological and conservation standpoint. Sprinkler systems are maintained better to prevent spillage of excess water due to sprinkler damage or leakage. In fact, many sprinkler systems are synced with on-site weather computers that track precipitation to prevent unnecessary watering during wet seasons. Thirdly, recycled water and rain-collected water are rapidly replacing freshwater sources. Reservoirs have been built on many courses to collect any and all rainfall from buildings, paths, and asphalt areas where runoff occurs. Some courses even have natural wells on-site which do not tax our main freshwater sources. One course in particular, Pelican Hill in Orange County ( estimates an annual water savings of 50 million gallons per year (NPR, Morning Edition, 16 April 2015). 50 million gallons a year! And that is just one course. Finally, the most sought after course designs or redesigns maximize efficient drainage systems for the efficient recycling of water. It is a must in 21st century course design. So the next time a friend (could they really be friends) bust your chops about your love of the game and water waste, hit them with a few facts noted above. Since the onset of the 21st century, golf courses have led the charge in water management and conservation in California. This is something we should all be proud of.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s