• Alistair Tait

Water, Water ... Nowhere

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

The late labour politician Tony Benn once said there would be wars over water in future. That’s a hard concept to grasp for anyone who grew up in Scotland, especially the West Coast of Scotland where, to paraphrase Mr Springsteen, “all it ever seems to do is rain.”

Will golf have to go to war over water in future?

Not many might have seen Steve Lopez’s story in the Los Angeles Times, but it’s important reading for all of us who love this great game. It’s an article that should make us think long and hard about the future of golf, especially those who play in hotter climes, where water is needed to keep courses green on a daily basis.

How many gallons of water? Over one million a night on some course in California’s Coachella Valley, home to cities like La Quinta, Palm Springs, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and other popular golf course resort areas, a region that has 120 golf courses. Not all courses use over a million gallons a night, some use JUST a few hundred thousand gallons.

As Lopez details, Botanist Doug Thompson and his wife Robin Kobaly are leading a campaign to try to get courses in the valley to use less water.

“It’s not only an outrage, but many months of the year, it’s too hot to play golf in the desert, yet the watering continues,” Thompson said.
“This water crisis is huge. They’ll ask us to do things like don’t leave the water running when you brush your teeth, and it’s illegal to wash your car unless you turn off the valve on the hose. That might save 10 gallons of water, and meanwhile a million gallons a night are being used on every golf course in the Coachella Valley.”

Golf courses in the area believe they are behaving responsibly by trying to use less water through narrowing fairways, removing turf and letting the desert take over, more sophisticated irrigation systems, grasses that don’t require as much water, and using water that cannot be recycled. Katie Evans of the Coachella Valley Water District said:

“I agree that more can be done to conserve. At this time, we are pushing out new conservation advertisements and continuing to offer a broad range of programs. … To be sustainable, we need to be water wise.”

Much wiser, and do more to conserve. At a time when climate crisis and global warming is the next big threat facing mankind, there surely has to come a point when local residents in areas like the Coachella Valley and other hot spots say enough is enough. As Thompson said:

“I’ve got nothing against golf, but they’ve got to find a different way of doing it.”

Golf’s carbon footprint is sure to become a bigger issue of debate as global leaders fight climate change. Wonder how our game will respond?

Maybe there’s a positive to be had from less water usage – the late Jim Arthur, the doyen of British greenkeeping, argued against overwatering for most of his life. Many courses in future might not feel the need to try to get their layouts looking as verdant as Augusta National 365 days a year. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll realise there’s nothing wrong with courses looking brown and burnt out. After all, it hasn’t hurt the great links of the world, where fast-running, brown-looking courses are just as much fun, if not more, than playing soft, green golf courses that promote target golf.

To paraphrase another great wordsmith, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, maybe in future it’ll be a case of water, water nowhere and not a drop to irrigate.

#JustSaying: “Overwatering is the cardinal sin of greenkeeping,” Al Radco

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