U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- That seems to be the message coming from the
Arizona golf course industry, which is taking a serious look at how
courses are maintained in light of growing problems over precious
water supplies. Higher green fees, in an area that already ranks
among the highest in the nation in prime season, and not-so-green
turf could be the result of water measures being considered by the
"Brown is a color we're probably going to have to get used to,"
said Mark Clark of Troon Golf & Country Club and the Cactus and
Pine Golf Course Superintendents Association. "Having an
uninterrupted water supply in the future is a fantasy."
Clark was among those who attended a conference this week to
discuss the future of the sport in Arizona. And while not all see a
bleak future, there were ominous tones, mostly related to water.
"I don't necessarily think that brown is coming," said Tom
Patrick, vice president of SunCor Resort and Golf Management. "There
is water available, we just need to use it more efficiently."
Patrick warned, however, that green fees could take a significant
jump over the next 10 years because of proposals being considered by
the Water Management Commission. The commission's final report is due
by the end of the year.
Among the proposals it is considering is subjecting golf courses
to a "replenishment tax" adopted in 1995 as part of the "assured
water supply rules." In part, those rules require water users to
replenish supplies by paying a tax to purchase water from the Central
"If golf courses face a replenishment tax, water rates could as
much as double," Patrick said. "There's no question that would mean
higher green fees."
National Golf Foundation figures from last year showed Arizona
with the third-highest green fees in the country during prime season
at an average of $71.30. That ranked behind only Hawaii and Nevada.
The national average was $39.30.
Unlike most areas of the country, prime season in the Valley falls
during the winter months, when courses are overseeded with ryegrass,
which makes for plush playing conditions but requires more water to
maintain than summer Bermuda.
"To be more environmentally friendly, we need to rethink
overseeding and less watering and turning more of the golf course
back to its natural state," Clark said. "At some point, someone is
going to stand up and mandate that we not overseed. I can see it
coming in the next 10 years."
The U.S. Golf Association has conducted studies showing
environmental benefits of turfgrasses. Still, the course industry is
aware of public perception that it uses far too much of a precious
"From a superintendents standpoint, it would be wise economically,
environmentally, and from a public relations standpoint to change the
way we do business," said Lynn Cannon, executive director of the
Cactus and Pine. "There are a lot of people who think of golf courses
only as water guzzlers."
Using more effluent water would help keep costs down, but many
courses are hesitant to do so for aesthetic reasons. Rita Pearson,
director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said only
about 7 percent of course watering comes from effluent and about 50
percent from groundwater.
Sanctuary in Scottsdale, which was built under supervision of the
Audubon International Institute, is the state's only course with its
own water recharge facility. Adding one to an existing course is
expensive, ranging from $350,000 to $1 million.
"The course owner has to ask, 'Do I see in my crystal ball that
water rates are going to go high enough for me to build one and get
that money back?' " Patrick said. "The answer is probably no."
Patrick said he believes that one answer to keeping green fees
down as water costs increase is attracting more golf visitors to the
state, but Arizona is failing in that regard. Despite being one of
the most golf-rich areas of the world, golf rounds and revenues
decreased last year.
Arizona has added 65 new courses in the last 10 years, bringing
the number to more than 300. But the number of visitors to the Valley
who played golf last year decreased by about 100,000, according to
preliminary figures of the Arizona Office of Tourism.
The passage of Proposition 302 last year will give that office $15
million to promote travel, with about $1 million to be used for golf.
Tourism director Mark McDermott said the top 10 states in golf
marketing spend an average of $34 million on promotion.
Cannon isn't optimistic.
"I think most superintendents would say we are going to go brown,"
she said, "or the cost of water is going to drive greens fees to the
point where we put ourselves out of business."
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