U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- The sprays of treated water that bring the lush
fairways to life could be the next flash point for those who draw
their livelihood from golf in Arizona.
Many of the challenges facing the industry are similar to those
facing the golf industry throughout the nation. But one of the
biggest is unique to the rain-starved, fast-growing Southwest.
"Drought is the No. 1 concern right now," said Shawn Connors,
president of the state's Golf Industry Association.
The industry says it uses about 5 percent of the state's water but
generates at least $1 billion annually in economic impact.
If the drought continues, course operators will have to reduce
water use, and they know they're perceived as a low priority behind
allocations for homes, health and safety. They also know that state
growth and more demand for water threaten their water share and
costs. And they fear that even the wastewater they use for much of
their irrigation could become harder to get as other industries
compete for it.
"It's simply a matter of when, not if, that (water) becomes a
crisis mode," Connors told Golf Industry Association members at their
Course operators have drawn high marks for innovative water use,
and draw praise from the governor's office for their practices while
mostly avoiding the ire of environmental groups. They say they
continue to research ways to improve.
But as water policies tighten, changes -- including less
overseeding by some courses in the winter -- appear inevitable, even
if the public apparently does not perceive the industry as a water
"It's not the call we get; it's not the letter we get," Stephanie
Sklar, executive director of the 4,000-member Arizona League of
Conservation Voters, said of golf-course complaints. "I think that
maybe that is a testament to the industry, and they probably have
been fairly careful stewards. They're probably far from the worst
culprits when it comes to squandering Arizona's water."
Phoenix municipal courses did not overseed fairways this winter
for the third straight year because of water concerns, and course
superintendents say they expect to see more Phoenix area courses
follow suit. Tom Patrick, vice president of SunCor Golf, which
manages seven Arizona courses, thinks that would be a big mistake.
"As important as golf is here, it would be devastating from a
revenue standpoint," he said. "With the amount of water we have,
overseeding should not even be an issue, now or anytime soon."
If courses were to cut water use further, it likely could show up
in summer, rather than winter when courses charge their highest rates
and make the most money, Connors said.
"Of all the industries, they probably do the most to be efficient
... but they are very visible," said Mark Frank, director of Arizona
Department of Water Resources' Phoenix Active Management Area, which
includes most of the state's courses.
Frank expects they'll become more efficient in the future, "if for
no other reason than to have a good public image and to save water
and to save money."
Industry representatives say they're responsible with water and
use comparatively little for the return they generate in tourism,
jobs and taxes.
They're using more wastewater, using and supporting development of
more drought- and salt-tolerant grasses, moving to more efficient and
sophisticated irrigation equipment, and participating in the
governor's drought task force.
With the help of science and technology, they say they want to
become better water stewards. In turn, they seek to save money, have
a voice in state water decisions and defend against unwarranted
The industry says its $1 billion economic impact is significant
against its 5 percent water use -- which state water officials say
might be 1 or 2 percentage points higher. Agriculture uses about 70
percent for a $6 billion to $7 billion return.
"We need to communicate our business to the public," the Golf
Industry Association's Connors told members. "This is critical to our
success as an industry."
Jeff Bollig, spokesman for the Lawrence, Kan.-based Golf Course
Superintendents Association of America, said the No. 1 reason avid
golfers choose a course is for its playing conditions, followed by
its service and amenities.
In other words, good, green turf brings golfers. And in an economy
so dependent on tourism, turf quality isn't something courses want to
Don Steuter, conservation chairman for the Grand Canyon Chapter of
the Sierra Club, said courses had nowhere to go but up in water
The chapter wants to ensure that when courses are built, they
incorporate wildlife habitat wherever possible.
Jay Pennypacker, president of Platinum Golf Properties, said
courses have ample financial incentive to be prudent. Water costs at
Eagle Mountain, which tries to use about half effluent and half water
fit to drink, are about $275,000 annually, excluding pumping costs,
he said. While effluent costs slightly less than potable water, it's
a Catch-22, he said.
"It's actually more difficult to maintain quality turf," he said,
noting that effluent is high in damaging salts which have to be
neutralized with calcium and flushed largely with potable water.
For course superintendents like Eagle Mountain's Joe Miller, a
course is a balancing act of testing and managing soil and water.
"The soil is a living organism" he said, and needs to be fed a
healthy, balanced diet.
Courses also are using more organic materials to fertilize their
grass, which helps buffer the salt content from effluent and build up
the soil with nutrients, Miller said.
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