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GCSAA Research Profiles Water Use on Golf Courses
In late 2007, during the throes of his state's extensive drought, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue took it upon himself to recognize only one group of professionals for its expertise as water managers - golf course superintendents.
Now, thanks to a survey conducted by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the public has documentation as to how golf course managers have gained such respect for conserving the precious natural resource.
The information comes from GCSAA's Golf Course Environmental Profile, a first-of-its-kind collection of data on property features, management practices and inputs associated with golf courses across the United States. The project is actually a series of five surveys that will be completed later this year, focusing on property features, management practices and input associated with golf courses and golf course maintenance. The process will be replicated in the future to document change and identify key issues for potential research, programs and tools needed for the industry. The project is funded by The Environmental Institute for Golf made possible through a grant by The Toro Co. Giving Program.
Covered in the exhaustive report on golf courses in addition to water conservation are total water applied, water sources, costs, innovations and opportunities for golf to further distinguish itself as a leader in the efficient use of water. Results from the survey have been compiled and were published in the January 2009 edition of the online scientific journal, Applied Turfgrass Science.
The article, "Golf Course Environmental Profile Measures Water Use, Source, Cost, Quality, and Management and Conservation Strategies," was written by GCSAA Director of Research Clark Throssell, Ph.D., Director of Environmental Programs Greg Lyman, Senior Manager of Environmental Programs Mark Johnson, Senior Manager of Market Research Data Greg Stacey and National Golf Foundation Director of Research Clark Brown. Non-subscribers of Applied Turfgrass Science can receive a copy of the article by contacting Throssell at [email protected].
"Just as we found in the first survey regarding the physical characteristics of golf courses, this survey provides a valuable baseline of data regarding water management on golf courses," Lyman said. "The data will help facilities in making management decisions, and the industry when participating in policy-making activities and communicating with a variety of constituents. The survey confirmed what many believe in that the golf industry is progressive in regards to water use and ensuring water quality.
"Water applied to golf courses helps to drive a $76 billion a year industry. Golf courses are economic, environmental and recreational assets to local communities. Communities derive direct value from the water applied to golf courses by generating an economic return while adding social and environmental benefits. This report indicates that golf course superintendents and the golf industry are well positioned to professionally manage and protect water resources in the future."
Among the key findings were:
* Golf courses account for one-half of one percent of all water used annually and just one and one half percent of all irrigated water applied.
* Only 14 percent of golf courses utilize water from municipal water systems.
* Superintendents at 18-hole golf facilities utilize numerous methods to conserve water, with the top three tactics being the use of wetting agents (92 percent), hand watering (78 percent), and keeping turf drier than in the past (69 percent).
* Superintendents utilize information from multiple sources as part of their decision to apply water. Most facilities utilize direct observations of turfgrass and soil conditions, with approximately 35 percent routinely utilizing evapotranspiration data.
* Recycled water is used by 12 percent of golf facilities, with 37 percent of facilities in the Southwest Region using this source. More than half (53 percent) said they would use effluent water; however, there was not a source of it. Another 13 percent said there was no infrastructure to deliver it from water providers.
In addition to the data, the authors of the article reached a variety of conclusions that would serve to benefit golf facilities and the golf industry. Among those were:
* Golf facilities should continue take advantage of technology as part of the irrigation decision-making process to conserve water. The utilization of data from soil sensors for irrigation scheduling decisions is likely to increase in the future as the equipment becomes more reliable and affordable.
* GCSAA and the Environmental Institute for Golf support working collaboratively with the golf industry, citizens, communities and all levels of government to develop practical public policy related to water issues.
* Golf facilities must pro-actively conserve water. Conserving water on golf facilities is essential to becoming a sustainable business. Optimizing the acreage of irrigated turfgrass, implementing best management practices, utilizing technology to make water application decisions, conducting an irrigation system audit along with an audit of the non-golf course water uses at the entire facility are key to becoming responsible users of water.
* Golf facilities provide a valuable long-term customer for local treatment facilities and turfgrass is an effective biological filter to further treat the water. The golf industry should strive to maximize the use of reclaimed water when the availability, quality, and cost are sustainable for the golf facility and it is practical given the local water resources available.
* Nationally, golf facilities irrigate approximately 80% of the maintained turfgrass acres. Golf facilities located in areas of limited water supplies should irrigate only the turfgrass essential for the play of the game.
An article complementary to the one published online by Applied Turfgrass Science appeared in the June 2008 edition of Golf Course Management magazine. A full report of the study, including narrative, graphs, charts and tables, is accessible at www.eifg.org. Also available online is the first survey report, focusing on land use and physical characteristics. The third (nutrient use) and fourth (pesticide use) surveys are expected to be compiled and released in 2009.
A fifth survey will be distributed in late February to GCSAA members and non-GCSAA member golf course superintendents to collect data on energy use and environmental practices for golf facilities. Funding for the entire project has been through the Environmental Institute for Golf and a grant provided by the Toro Co. Giving Program.
"The surveys provide the building blocks for documenting the progressive nature of golf course management," Throssell said. "They reveal the advances that have been made and the areas where we have opportunity to innovate for improvement. The participation we have received from GCSAA member and non-member superintendents is appreciated and crucial to the project's success. We appreciate the support facility leaders gave to superintendents in providing us this data. And just as important, this project could not have been undertaken without the support of The Environmental Institute for Golf, its donors, and grants from The Toro Co. Giving Program."
The National Golf Foundation was contracted to conduct the survey, manage the recruitment of participants and complete the analysis of the data in collaboration with GCSAA. The water survey was distributed to 16,797 golf facilities in October 2006 and accepted until late November 2006. A total of 2,548 usable surveys were returned (15 percent return rate), and all types of courses (daily fee, municipal, private) were adequately represented across seven agronomic regions of the nation.