Communicating golf course conditioning during a drought

How to explain likely impacts to the course, as well as your water management efforts

The presence of drought can have a wide and far-reaching impact on many fronts. Economic, safety, health and quality of life issues are a concern. Understanding the pervasiveness of drought is important in communicating the issue of golf course conditioning when experiencing prolonged periods without rainfall.

No one would ever equate the importance of a putting green to that of human life. For that reason, it's important that you frame the obstacles and concerns presented by drought in the proper context . At the same time, golf courses provide communities with economic, environmental and recreational benefits, and thus, their importance should not be minimized.

Course managers must communicate to both golfers and non-golfers the water application process on golf course maintenance. It is also appropriate to share those same messages with golf facility personnel, especially owners, managers and green committee chairmen as a means to display your expertise and prepare them should they need to respond to inquiries.

Provide information

The best method for commenting on issues charged with emotion and passion (such as the environment) is to present fact-based statements. Often times, golf course superintendents are faced with allegations of water misuse regardless of whether a drought exists. Again, the key is to let your case be based on facts.

Your discussion should expand on the:

  • hazards or overwatering
  • monitoring of ET rates
  • efficiency of modern irrigation
  • use of drought-tolerant grasses
  • implementation of water-retaining agents
  • use of effluent water
  • the trend of reducing turf areas
  • increased use of ponds and other areas to capture water and use it for irrigation
  • current trend of reduced water use on golf courses

Target your message

How and where do you publicize? Consider the proactive approach. You know at sometime in your life, your water use will be questioned. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Use state golf publications, regional golf newsletters/magazines and facility newsletters/bulletin boards to communicate environmental facts (including water use issues) to golfers.
  • Guest editorials or radio interviews can reach out to golfers and non-golfers alike.
  • Invite the media to your facility and explain the steps you are taking to manage the lack of rainfall.
  • Educate your staff on your management program so they can respond when they come under fire for syringing greens when heat is at an extreme.

Communicate your plan to golfers

In addition to communicating your efforts to conserve water, it is important to relay how golfers will be affected by the drought. Again, be proactive in telling golfers why golf cart travel will be restricted to cart paths only. Explain how the rough will be affected by watering restrictions. If you decide to increase mowing heights, let them know why and the impact it will have on play. It might also present the opportunity to show your patrons how a water conservation program using less water can be beneficial to the environment without affecting playability. In essence, "brown can be beautiful" and they can still have firm putting surfaces, good fairway lies and quality teeing areas.

Put it in perspective

As previously mentioned, perspective is important in communication. The issue of water use is also one of demand. With the human population increasing, it is only natural that the demand for water would increase. The demand for potable water doubles every 20 years Golf cannot be blamed for creating water concerns, but it can be a leader in addressing them. There are few other businesses that have the ability to conserve and manage water in a manner as a golf facility.

Some important considerations to keep in mind:

  • Golf courses in the Las Vegas region account for only 5% of total potable water used, despite portrayals that they are the major consumers of water.
  • Nationally, golf courses use only ½ of 1% of irrigated water.
  • Only 14% of golf courses rely on public water sources – the other 86% draw from wells, ponds or impoundments that do not infringe on public water needs.