The R&A - Working for Golf

Using water efficiently

Water is a precious resource and golf courses should only use what is absolutely necessary.

The availability of quality drinking water is the single largest global environmental issue. The water needs of the golf course must not impact negatively on the quality or quantity of water that flows through and out from the course.

Many golf courses use too much water and golf courses are often criticised for taking water that could be used for a better purpose. In 2004, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 cubic metres of water per hectare were being pumped out of freshwater supplies to keep golf courses green in south-east Spain, which was enough water to supply a town of 12,000 inhabitants for a whole year! Most courses will use nothing like this quantity of water and, even in dry climates, such levels of use cannot be justified.  This is not only environmentally irresponsible, but it is also costly and leads to the production of soft surfaces, which reduce playing performance unless additional costs are incurred to manage such excess.

Water usage on your golf course will increasingly be in the spotlight within your local community due to the greater value put on drinking water supplies. Increasing water prices from water authorities reflect demand, the cost of maintaining storage and delivery infrastructure, and the premium placed on this precious resource.  Golf clubs may not be able to afford to buy in as much water in the future so should be looking to alternative, and cheaper, supplies and ways to actually cut down on the amount of water that is used on the course.

If feasible, investigate and implement:

  • supporting a vibrant population of desirable soil microbes as this will increase the efficiency of the grass plant in absorbing water
  • reducing the area of irrigated turf or other vegetation, looking to replace it with native vegetation that requires little water to survive
  • utilising water sources not suitable for drinking, such as recycled or grey water. Available infrastructure is obviously an issue in acquiring such a supply. If using such sources, regular checks on plant and soil quality will be required as contaminants can build up to toxic levels
  • water harvesting from course drainage or buildings and adequate storage capacity
  • building irrigation lakes to harvest what rainfall does come, provided you have the land necessary and can afford it
  • desalination if your course is near the coast.  This is a costly option and uses a great deal of electricity so there is a sustainability debate to be had over this potential source.

To ensure that you are operating as a responsible user of water, there are a number of practical measures which you can take:

  • adhere to the philosophy of drier, firmer and healthier turf
  • prioritise areas to receive water, such as greens
  • irrigate at night when evapo-transpiration is low
  • have the latest irrigation technology to ensure efficient and effective application of water
  • incorporate hand watering into your irrigation programme
  • utilise appropriate aeration and wetting agent programmes to ensure that water applied actually penetrates into the soil
  • ensure that abstraction is not threatening supplies or the local environment
  • avoid applying water to habitats that will be adversely affected by irrigation
  • provide adequate training for staff in the efficient and effective use of water
  • regularly monitor soil profiles to irrigated areas with a moisture meter to ensure effective watering is achieved
  • recycle water used for washing down machinery
  • investigate alternatives for other water-using services you provide out on the course, e.g. there are now water-free unisex urinals
  • be pro-active in co-operating with local authorities and environment agencies to comply with any restrictions that are imposed
  • be aware of and comply with relevant legislation
  • provide water-use figures for public consumption to demonstrate a responsible approach and transparency in your operation. To gain community support for your commitment to reducing consumption, you may wish to publicise the efforts you are making to use water responsibly.

Water is becoming an increasingly costly resource. It will be a sound move to audit water usage so that you have accurate data to help implement management strategies with specific targets to reduce consumption.


Put it into practice!

A moisture meter, many of which record volumetric water content (VWC) of the soil in percentage terms, can help you irrigate more efficiently.  Use such a device to determine the field capacity of your soils (maximum VWC) and the wilting point of the turf.  Monitor soil moisture daily and irrigate to maintain soil water at a minimum level, as close to wilting point as you feel is safe according to weather forecasts.  Be aware that it is not only hot weather that can accelerate evapo-transpiration and water loss from the soil.  Windy weather, even at cool temperatures, can lead to rapid drying of the soil and desiccation of the turf.