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May 13

Golf’s Response to Drought

Good Step, But A Little Slow

I read this morning that golf courses all over the state of California are conducting sweeping changes in the way they work with water and the natural environment, and even though I applaud the sentiment, something seemed a little bit off. I had the idea that they spoke as if the problem appeared yesterday, and they were trying to make it sound as if their response was immediate – and it most certainly was not.

drought El Niguel Country Club of Orange County was cited in the effort to bring fresh new technology to a nearly four-year long dry spell in California, including all manner of upgrades in efficient use of naturally existing water. They speak of tearing out grass where it doesn’t affect the game, putting in drought-resistant vegetation, letting the grass turn brown in certain areas, smart watering system, and sensors throughout the acreage to let the manager know what’s going on with the dampness level of the course. They speak of matching the 25% cut in water usage ordered by the Governor, and the almost nine hundred courses scattered throughout California are eligible for a turf reduction rebate of approximately two to three dollars per square foot – cool, very good, polite applause.
TGW.com - The Golf WarehouseBut something’s still off in an area of the country where water is starting to become a life and death issue. They say that up to 25 acres can be ripped out without affecting the game – what is that? Why not affect the game, and right now? Those who have put liners at the bottom of artificial lakes have made a good step toward conserving water, and treating wastewater for use on the course is all fine, but why is it happening now, and why isn’t it happening to a greater degree? Are courses afraid that golf devotees will quit the game if it doesn’t look as if it just came out of a Scottish mist, like the Brigadoon Country Club? It’s a drought, for crying out loud, and people die sooner from lack of water than they do for lack of food.
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No one loves the color green more than I do, but we’re going to have to reinvent the environment of the game without reinventing the game itself. My suspicions about Southwest American golf’s response to doubt were confirmed when the light bulb came on – What would Gary Player say? So, I looked him up to see. The wireless, sensors in the soil idea? Player already revealed that to twenty-five thousand golf course personnel in New Orleans. When I looked at the date of the article, I freaked out – 2009, people! 2009! The man has already built a virtually water-free course in Karoo, South Africa that is drop-dead gorgeous. Why wasn’t every important person in golf management on a plane in the next month to go look at it, and ask every pertinent question about its efficiency? Player, admittedly, had an edge – his brother Ian is a world-renowned conservationist, and he was inspired earlier than some of the rest of us. Nevertheless, he was way ahead of the curve in 2009, and we failed to hit it. Player also believes, as he designs courses around the world, that championship courses require more water than courses meant for leisure. He doesn’t think we should put the weekender through what he went through at Augusta. Drought areas don’t need to build inordinately difficult courses.

So I’m keeping the applause polite, because you should have jumped on this years ago. Golf is a wonderful game, but you can’t superimpose it on a drought-stricken population without severe, honest and sincere change, even if it means that the fairway of your childhood is gone, and you chip to a “brown.” And next time, for Heaven’s sake, call Gary!

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.