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Saving Water While Keeping Our Golf Courses Beautiful

Golfers know a nice golf course when they see one, and they appreciate one that is kept in top-rate condition. But they may not realize the effort and the science that golf course superintendents employ to put good conservation techniques to work. Perhaps the most significant is the current trend toward conserving water use when trying to keep the fairways and greens pristine.

The United States Golf Association’s “Green Section Record” has provided information to golf course superintendents for decades, dating back to 1973 when it forwarded the latest research of the times in “Environmental Concerns for the Golf Course Superintendent.”

The messages of more than 30 years ago remain relevant today, but the nation’s dwindling water supplies have made it more urgent than ever to consider methods of proper water usage.

The use of recycled water has been a key advancement, though the salt content of recycled water can be difficult for certain types of turf grasses to tolerate.

“Golf courses do conserve the use of well water by using community waste water or effluent water,” says Peter Leuzinger, a golf course superintendent for 30 years before retiring to teach horticulture and turf grass studies at Kishwaukee College in DeKalb, Ill.

“We did it at Ivanhoe golf course and for 170 homes in the community,” Leuzinger said. “We had our own waste water treatment lagoons and fed our irrigation system with that water.”

Leuzinger said many golf courses throughout northern Illinois do the same thing today, which goes a long way toward saving water, particularly during periods of drought when water usage restrictions are in place.

“The sodium (salt) issue comes mainly from water softeners discharging into the sewer system,” Leuzinger explained.  “Often the pH of this ‘grey water’ is very high at 8.4 and is treated with acid to get it close to neutral (7.0).

“Sodium build up in the soil should not be allowed. It can be treated with gypsum or sulfur and watered in. This replaces the nitrogen on the exchange sites of the soil and it flushes out with heavy rain water as it restores the soils’ fertility level and structure.”

Leuzinger said that winter snow and spring rains also help reduce salt levels in the soils in the Midwest, but in western states the golf course superintendents have to flush their greens and tees “by watering very heavily, from time to time, taking the salt out through the drainage system to reduce the concentration to an acceptable level for fine turf.”

Golf course superintendents understand what works and what doesn’t in their particular environment. “Some turf species are more tolerant of sodium than others, but might not be good grasses to use in the Midwest for golf course turf,” Leuzinger said.

The USGA researches turf grasses and their tolerance to weather conditions, and the organization is finding more requests for grasses that can tolerate less intense management and care. This calls for turfs that need less water or can handle recycled water on a regular basis.

It is not uncommon to see desert golf courses use very limited areas of grass because water usage is heavily limited, but others are seeking turfs that can go nearly dormant, but still be playable.

Which introduces a new reality for golf course pros and superintendents – they will have to lower the expectations of the players at their courses who are used to brilliantly green fairways, while explaining that the playing conditions are the same.They may be able to start with this pitch – saving water will save money and quite likely help keep greens’ fees lower.


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