Communicating golf course conditioning during a drought

The presence of drought can have a wide and far-reaching impact on many fronts. Economic, safety, health and quality of life issues are a concern. Understanding the pervasiveness of drought is important in communicating the issue of golf course conditioning when experiencing prolonged periods without rainfall.

No one would ever equate the importance of a putting green to that of human life, therefore superintendents must frame in the proper context the obstacles and concerns presented by drought. At the same time, the sport of golf is a significant generator of commerce and recreation, and thus its importance must not be minimized. Course managers must communicate to both golfers and non-golfers in a professional manner the water application process on golf course maintenance. It is also appropriate to share those same messages with golf facility personnel, especially owners, managers, green chairs, etc., as a means to display your expertise and prepare them should they need to respond to inquiries.

The best method to comment on issues charged with emotion and passion (such as the environment) is to present fact-based statements. GCSAA produces a variety of environmentally-based fact sheets, including one that discusses water conservation, that are available through the Service Center. Often times, golf course superintendents are faced with allegations of water misuse regardless of whether or not a drought exists. Again, the key is to let your case be based on facts. Your discussion should expand on the hazards or overwatering, monitoring of ET rates, efficiency of modern irrigation, the use of drought tolerant grasses, the implementation of water-retaining agents, the use of effluent water and the trend of reduced water use on golf courses.

How and where do you publicize? Consider the proactive approach. You know at sometime in your life, your water use will be questioned. Superintendents should use state golf publications, regional golf newsletters/magazines and facility newsletters/bulletin boards to communicate environmental facts (including water use issues) to golfers. Taken one step further, guest editorials or radio interviews reach out to golfers and non-golfers alike. In fact, invite the media to your facility and explain the steps your are taken the manage the lack of rainfall. Repeat this message when drought conditions hit as your staff comes under fire for syringing greens when heat is at an extreme.

The issue of water use is also one of demand. With the human population increasing, it is only natural that the demand for water would increase. The demand for potable water doubles every 20 years. Golf cannot be blamed for creating water concerns, but it can be a leader in addressing them. In essence, the message is golf courses and superintendents are not part of the problem, they are actually part of the solution. There are few other businesses that have the ability to conserve and manage water in a manner as a golf facility.

In addition to communicating your efforts to conserve water, it is important to relay how golfers will be affected by the drought. Again, be proactive in telling golfers why golf car travel is restricted to cart paths only. Explain how the rough will be affected by watering restrictions. If you decide to increase mowing heights, let them know why and the impact it will have on play. It might also present the opportunity to show your patrons how a water conservation program using less water can be beneficial to the environment without affecting the golfer. In essence, "brown can be beautiful" and you can still have firm putting surfaces, good fairway lies and quality teeing areas.

As previously mentioned, perspective is important in communication. For example, golf courses in the Las Vegas region account for only five percent of total potable water used, despite portrayals that golf courses are the major consumers of water. Nationally, golf courses use only 10 percent of the water consumed by homeowners in irrigating their lawns. And while homeowners rely on public water sources, many golf course draw from wells, pond or impoundment that do not infringe on public water needs. In terms of total water use for irrigating agriculture, public and private landscaping, and sports turf, golf courses comprise slightly more than one percent of the total consumption.

For more information on communicating issues of water conservation and use, contact the GCSAA communications department at (800) 472-7878, ext. 4430.