Planners know that selecting a golf destination for meetings and events is a proven way to drive attendance. But in the face of the ongoing drought, even the most lush and opulent of California’s golf courses are going brown around the edges these days.
Actually, that’s not a bad thing: Parched grass in the age of “water shaming” is a sign that management is respecting and working to comply with state-mandated water cutbacks.
“The big thing that all golf courses throughout the state and, frankly, throughout the world are looking at these days is, ‘How to we reduce the total area that we irrigate?’” says Bruce Charlton, president/chief design officer of Robert Trent Jones II LLC, Golf Course Architects, which designs and renovates golf courses around the globe using the latest technology and techniques. “We do it by reducing the size of the room, so to speak.”
Reducing irrigated acreage was key to what Charlton set out to do during a recent revamp of the Poppy Hills course at Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula. The course was closed 13 months for extensive renovations geared to improve drainage, conserve water, showcase the surrounding forest and improve year-round playability. More than 20 ir rigated acres were removed from the equation in a new design that actually increased fairway size. Only a player familiar with the old course would recognize the areas that previously were irrigated but have since been replaced with drought-tolerant native plants or other landscaping.
“There are lots of ways to remove turf and make the course more strategic,” Charlton says. “You can give it more color and texture and differential to the eye as opposed to just ripping out turf and not paying attention. And, interestingly, if you reduce the amount of turf, you also reduce the amount of labor, fuel to mow, and amount of pesticides and fertilizer and other things needed to keep a golf course healthy. So you’re winning on a number of fronts and reducing water usage at the same time.”
Charlton notes that many golf courses around the state are using similar strategies to reduce their water footprint without negatively impacting play.
Sacramento’s Del Paso Country Club, which hosted the nationally televised U.S. Senior Open in June, is at the front of the curve. It spent two years fine-tuning its course in preparation for the prestigious event while at the same time responding to four years of drought and the prospect of more dry years to come.
“Letting areas be allowed to go brown would have been part of our water conservation plan even if there wasn’t a drought,” notes Shannon Hall, the club’s private events director, who adds that the club’s water conservation measures, both visible and behind the scenes, have been well received by members and guests.
Other changes at Del Paso are high-tech and pack a big water conservation punch. The club last year replaced its pump station with a water-efficient model tied to a new irrigation system controlled by a central computer and specialized software, Hall says. Meanwhile, the course was sand-capped in primary play areas to allow water to move more efficiently and remain in targeted root zones. High-tech soil-moisture sensors were installed and hand watering was used in otherwise hard-to-isolate spots.
With constant calibration and fine-tuning, Hall says, Del Paso is meeting its water-conservation goals while at the same time standing ready for its next network close-up.