California courses weather drought

The December rains helped ease the effects of the drought for owners and operators of golf courses in California, but much more is needed to reverse nearly four years of relatively dry weather in the state.

However, it’s not only rain, as golfers are singing a tune more often heard by practitioners of another recreational sport: “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

“It’s like free money falling out of the sky if you don’t have to pump water,” Chris Thomas, executive director of the Northern California PGA, said of the rain. “It certainly was a blessing welcomed by the golf community.

“However, it hasn’t completely cured the problems that have come with the drought. That will rest with the snow pack (in the Sierra Nevada this winter). It will dictate if we have more favorable conditions on our golf courses in the spring and summer.”

Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, and others throughout the state, were proactive.

Well before the start of the drought, Oakmont began a turf reduction program that has reaped benefits for the course.

“When we underwent a renovation project in 2008, we included about eight acres of new native areas to the property,” Oakmont General Manager Scott Heyn said. “When we started Stage 2 with architect Brian Hurley last year, we added more native areas for a total of about 24 acres.

“So when the Metropolitan Water District came out with its rebate plan, we got into it right away. Now there are about 40 courses involved. We are not under any restrictions, but we wanted to be ahead of the game so we could take care of our golf course.”

Some courses that had the foresight to implement changes in the last few years might have been victimized a bit when the State of California finally stepped in last summer.

The State Water Resources Control Board passed an emergency resolution on July 15 that required water districts throughout California to develop and activate water contingency plans that has had an effect on golf courses.

“It’s a little unfair,” Craig Kessler, director of government affairs for the Southern California Golf Association said at the time. “If you’re dealing with golf courses that have been on restriction, that have invested in new nozzles, smart irrigation systems and removed acres of turf and gotten their water footprint substantially down in the last five or 10 years; then there’s another golf course that’s been completely profligate.
“Then you put percentages decreased based on a last year baseline. What you’re doing is you’re killing one course and doing a favor for the other.”

While no courses have been forced out of business, Diablo Grande Golf Course in Patterson was forced to close its Legends Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus and Gene Sarazen.

Diablo Grande’s Ranch Course remains open.

“Each course has great qualities,” said Philip Cybert, CEO of Laurus Corp., which owns Diablo Grande. “The Ranch Course is the gateway. The first thing you see is the Ranch Course, and neighbors urged Laurus to keep it open.”

In addition, Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita has closed its Mountain Course, while the Valley Course remains open.

Poppy Hills Golf Course (pictured) in Livermore, owned and operated by the Northern California Golf Association and sister course of Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach, was mandated last year to reduce its water usage by 25 per cent.

Still, golfers have been generally pleased with the condition of the course, given the circumstances.

“We started preparing for this a long time ago because we knew it might happen,
Poppy Ridge General Manager Todd Cook said. “First, we stopped watering the driving range, except for the tee, and then the long grass areas. All of our ponds dried up during the summer, but the recent rain refilled them and made the course greener. But it didn’t rain enough.

“We get our water from the South Bay Aqueduct and our biggest concern is that the aqueduct will be shut down. Our reservoir has about 50 days worth of water in it, but after that we will be out. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for snow in the mountains.”

So if you go out to play golf any time soon, don’t be surprised to see course officials looking to the heavens.

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