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Golf courses save water with elimination of turf near tee boxes

Lush grass no longer so important during prolonged drought

By Sam Richards

Staff writer

(Monday, Nov. 6, 11:30 a.m.) There are too many variables – including rainfall, surface temperatures and humidity – to know exactly how much water GRF has saved with the removal of thirsty turf from near the golf courses’ tee boxes, and from various out-of-play areas.

But Mark Heptig, Rossmoor’s director of golf, knows that more and more sprinkler heads have been taken out of service, no longer needed where lush green grass was no longer wanted. In this age of prolonged drought and increasingly scarce and expensive water, lush grass is no longer so important – perhaps even a bit distasteful, some would say.

“We know we’ve cut off a number of sprinkler heads, about 15 acres’ worth, and that’s a lot,” Heptig said last week. “We knew we’d save water doing all this, but we’ve saved a lot more than we had expected.”

Blake Swint, GRF’s golf course superintendent, said the days of lush green golf courses, especially in California, are numbered.

“The golf course isn’t here to be pretty; the goal is playability, not aesthetics,” said Swint, noting that less turf watering near the tee boxes improves how those tee boxes play.

While removing grass that had to be watered has been a priority on the golf courses and Rossmoor’s street medians and park areas – for a few years, Heptig noted that it’s been at least a decade since the move to decommission thirsty turf adjacent to golf tee boxes and fairways gained momentum. The original driving factor wasn’t saving water, he said, but cutting down on maintenance costs.

“It takes a lot of time, labor and seed to make grass grow,” he said, especially in the more inhospitable small pockets.

Increasingly scarce, and expensive, water supplies only accelerated that process, Heptig said. “Golfers don’t use the green grass around a tee box,” he said.

He said that, as of last week, there were eight tee boxes, out of Rossmoor’s 27 total, that have yet to be shorn of their surplus turf. At a point in the relatively near future, there won’t be any more turf to remove that won’t affect how the course plays.

Swint said it’s clear that golf courses in California face an ever drier future. If Rossmoor were to apply today to build the golf courses it owns and operates now, he said, it likely wouldn’t be approved, even after the wholesale turf reductions.

He wants the Rossmoor courses to be properly braced for even drier times ahead, and wants to be central to making that happen successfully.

“A golf course is a habitat, and the privilege of taking care of it can’t be beat,” Swint said.