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In Short Supply

Water Restrictions Can Make It Challenging To Properly Maintain Golf Resorts

Friday, July 28, 2017
Steve Pike
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Three quarters of the earth is covered with water, which might make you think it is plentiful and easy to obtain. But that’s not the case. Water is in short supply in many parts of the world—including the United States— and it’s anything but free. Restrictions on water usage and the increased costs of water have impacted homeowners, business owners and hotels and resorts, particularly those hotels and resorts with golf courses.

“Water is like the new oil,” said Kevin Baker, director of golf at Reunion Resort & Club in Orlando, FL. “The old days of just drilling a big well down to the aquifer—around 800 feet—are gone. There are so many restrictions on water.”

Resort guests watch water usage, too, but from a different perspective. Resort guests want lush landscaping with bright flowers and resort golfers want courses as green as the ones they see on TV.

No doubt lush plant life and green fairways mean another kind of a green to a resort’s bottom line, but it also puts considerable pressure on grounds directors and course superintendents to juggle budgets and water restriction mandates to keep everything green. It’s certainly not an easy juggling act, but one that can be accomplished with proper planning and resources.

Reunion Resort, Baker said, is restricted to using 750 million gallons of water on its three golf courses. That’s 250 million gallons each, which sounds like a lot, but only if the Central Florida rainy season kicks in some extra water. “If we get an inch of rain a day, it’s perfect,” Baker said.

From a big picture standpoint, said Kim Wood, superintendent at TPC Las Vegas, “We don’t have a tremendous amount of (water) restrictions.”

That might sound a bit odd for a desert course, but it’s worth noting that the Southern Nevada Water Authority in 2005 began encouraging golf courses (and resorts in general) to reduce their turf sizes, thereby limiting the amount of water needed to maintain the turf. The TPC Las Vegas, for example, went from 104 acres of irrigated turf to its current 95 acres of irrigated turf.

“The advantages are reductions in irrigation costs and in electricity costs,” Wood said. “Over the past 15 years, as the business has evolved, our primary goal has been to limit your work force and just maintain good playing conditions.”

Landscaping around the perimeters of the golf course, for example, are now much less of a priority. “The course basically is all native desert along the perimeters anyway,” Wood said, “so we haven’t had that much of a challenge.”

The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa in Cedar Creek, TX, which includes the Wolfdancer Golf Club, has a contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority to irrigate its property with the river water that passes behind the resort.

“Our contract per acre feet never gets to a point that we cannot water,” said Kelly O’Donnell, director of golf operations at Wolfdancer Golf Club. “We also have a water treatment plant on site that makes it possible to irrigate using 10 to percent potable water from hotel usage.”

Although the eastern part of the U.S. (in general) has not experienced the serious drought situation that has been seen in the western part of the country, “Water conservation is still an important part of our operation,” said David Swartzel, director of golf course maintenance and grounds at Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, PA.

“To have healthy turf and a surface that plays well, the goal is to keep the surface as dry as possible while keeping the turf healthy,” Swartzel said.

The primary ways Bedford Springs has accomplished that, Swartzel said, has been extensive use of moisture meters to measure how much water is in the soil; hand watering; extensive use of wetting agents; weather station data integrated into the irrigation computer; and daily inspection of the moisture conditions adjusting individual sprinkler head programming if areas become too wet.

In the North Carolina sandhills, Talamore Golf Resort in Southern Pines, effectively has unlimited water to its two courses because it doesn’t feed off any well.

“The New Course at Talamore has pumping rights from the old town reservoir which is spring fed and collects a huge swath of storm water from the surrounding areas,” said Talamore Golf Resort General Manager Matt Hausser. “Mid South is spring-fed and has a transfer pump from a second lake that is spring fed. They also capture essentially every drop of rain from that land through the storm drain system which ultimately feed into the irrigation ponds.”

Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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