Survey Reveals Reduction in Golf Course Water Usage

Water usage at golf courses in the United States has been significantly reduced. Picture by Jeff Marsh/USGA.

Lawrence, Kansas, United States: Golf courses in the United States used 29 per cent less water in 2020, compared with usage in 2005, according to recently released survey data.

The 2021 survey was conducted by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) and funded by the GCSAA Foundation as part of its Golf Course Environmental Profile programme, which began in 2005.

The report found that US golf facilities applied approximately 1.68 million acre-feet of water in 2020, a 29% reduction since 2005. Two-thirds of the reduction was likely a result of operational golf facilities applying water more efficiently.

The survey results from nearly 1,600 golf course superintendents were collected and independently analysed by scientists Travis Shaddox, PhD, Bluegrass Art and Science LLC, and J. Bryan Unruh, PhD, University of Florida, and the National Golf Foundation (NGF), which published the findings for peer review before making the information public.

“Data from the 2021 water use benchmarking survey shows that golf course superintendents continue to reduce water use at their facilities. The survey results indicate a 9% reduction in applied water since 2013, totaling a 29% reduction since the inaugural survey was conducted,” Unruh said. “Similarly, the median acre-feet per acre, a measure of water use efficiency, has improved by 23% since 2005.”

The most common sources of water, according to the report, were wells (32%) and lakes and ponds (23%). Less water was applied in 2020 from each water source than in 2005 except for recycled water, which accounted for 21% of water applied.

Golf course superintendents have also increased the use of best management practices (BMPs) that can lead to reductions in water usage. BMPs such as keeping turf drier, pruning tree roots, changing to a more drought-tolerant turfgrass, mulching landscape beds and increasing no-mow acres were significantly associated with reductions in applied water.

The study also provides data on average water use in the seven different agronomic regions of the country. Decreased water use was seen in every region. The greatest water use applied per acre happened in the Southwest and Upper West/Mountain – two regions that have high average temperatures and low average rainfall.

“Golf course superintendents are responsible stewards of water resources, and the latest national survey results demonstrate that,” said Rhett Evans, CEO of GCSAA. “Superintendents are committed to efficient water management and have implemented evidence-based best management practices that result in reduced water use.

“All golf facilities should maintain a BMP manual and strive for continuous improvement as water management plans are an important aspect of BMPs and overall environmental sustainability,” added Evans.

As part of the third series of its Golf Course Environmental Profile programme, GCSAA will publish two additional national surveys related to golf course management over the next two years.

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