Making the Rounds: Drought testing courses’ savvy

Golf course owners, managers and superintendents are taking a glass-half-full approach dealing with California’s historic drought.

That applies for water and wine, considering what they’re up against.

“I’m telling everybody it will be a great learning experience for all of us, superintendents and players, to see what we can tolerate,” said Timber Creek superintendent Jim Ferrin.

Ferrin was part of a group of owners, operators and superintendents, along with golf industry representatives, who met Friday at Empire Ranch to brainstorm and hear from others who have dealt with water shortages in other parts of the country.

Things are particularly complicated in the Sacramento area because of a multitude of water districts and sources.

For those facing a reduction in water allocation, they learned it’s time to get proactive with the managers of their water source. Matt Dillon, the superintendent at Granite Bay, said his course faces a proposed 40 percent reduction from the San Juan Water District.

No problem, Dillon said, with one caveat: “I would like to have the flexibility to manage the allocated amount of water.”

He said he would irrigate green complexes, teeing areas and the middle of fairways, and let nonessential turf die, if given 40 percent less water.

Ferrin and Dillon are like all area superintendents in gladly doing their part to cut back and conserve, but the experts with on-course weather stations and knowledge of transpiration just want to know what they have to work with, not when and where to use their water.

“Telling us we can water only two days a week and only at certain times, that’s not the best way,” Ferrin said. “We want to do what these water districts need us to do. Life is more important than a golf course. We understand that. But we know what our course needs on a particular day.”

Golf courses draw a lot of negative attention during a drought, but water doesn’t just make them look pretty, it feeds the grass on which an industry is built. No water means no jobs. A reduction in water means less aesthetic but conditions for which most golfers will continue to pay and better golfers might actually prefer.

Timber Creek uses mostly reclaimed water, as do the Roseville city courses, Diamond Oaks and Woodcreek, so they’re better positioned than many. Courses with their own well are sitting prettiest. Courses such as Granite Bay, which buys canal water from local districts in the summer months, will be hit hardest.

None will take a gut shot more than Arbuckle, which learned this week that it will receive zero percent of its allotment from the Colusa County Water District. Arbuckle, a nine-hole semi-private course known for its great greens, buys about 100 acre-feet annually, or 32 million gallons, superintendent Craig McDonald said.

“It’s going to be a harsh thing,” said McDonald, who can draw minimal water from a well. “I guess the good news is nobody is going to complain about the fairways being too wet and the rough too long.”

Superintendents can take additional measures. The application of a wetting agent increases the spreadability of water but adds expense. Aerification allows soil to hold water longer.

“Those help, but they don’t make up for a 40 percent reduction,” Dillon said.

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