What can Golf Course Managers do to Use Water more Effectively?

The combined effects of a changing climate, increasing demand and greater competition are making water scarcity a threat to golf around the world. The UK Environment Agency calls for action, unless proactive action is taken, the country will simply run out of water by 2045. Periods of drought and flash flooding are also expected to rise in frequency. All of this will increasingly have a major impact on the businesses, like golf courses, that depend on water supply to operate successfully. Clubs are having to spend much more on supplies that are also becoming more vulnerable to regulation and restriction. 

This makes water conservation an absolute priority for Golf Clubs now and in the future. In this article, we explore key things Clubs can address to become more sustainable and future-proofed.

  1. Assess your Golf Course Design 

sessing a course to reduce the amount of water required for irrigation is the best place to start. Course design has a very significant impact on long term sustainability and water management on the golf course, it is a key component of effective water management, and it is critical to understand the natural water flow patterns throughout the site.

If the design aligns the holes to take advantage of natural flows and recycle excess water, it is a good start to water management. Careful earth shaping and good drainage design is used to collect runoff and sub-surface drainage water in on-site storage lakes. Most architects locate bodies of water at low points on the site. This helps excess water flow naturally to these bodies of water but if there are obstructions to the free flow, it will lead to water logging issues.

A sustainable course design would keep the turfed areas and water-demanding landscape areas to a minimum, resulting in water savings avoid watering areas that are not strictly necessary for the game. Lots of courses have noticed the benefits of naturalization for a long time though when it comes to cutting water use. Conservation areas -or other out of play areas consisting of native grasses, adapted grasses or other existing indigenous vegetation that has been left undisturbed on the site -are incorporated into the golf course to reduce irrigation and maintenance requirements, but also as environmental enhancement for the promotion and diversity of wildlife habitats.

Many golf courses use natural areas to enhance their character by establishing a particular appearance and visual quality. In addition to further reducing irrigation requirements, the use or preservation of native grasses and other indigenous plant materials will reflect the existing environment and provide consistency for ecosystems. Incorporating wetlands in the course design is a very good way of providing a natural zone to filter chemicals and runoff from leaching into the soil.

2. Check your Irrigation System

Irrigation systems are the main cause of water usage on golf course, making it important to have an efficient system installed. The main function of the irrigation system is to replace the amount of water lost due to evaporation and transpiration. This is best achieved by providing uniform water distribution through proper sprinkler selection, placement and operation. Uniform distribution will provide a consistent and healthy turf.

Inefficient irrigation, on the other hand, will cause areas of soft and hard turf which can affect the playability and the overall golfing experience.

In the absence of an efficient irrigation system, it has been observed that fairways and greens are typically overwatered by 30 to 50 percent. Intelligent use of water is therefore a critical factor for a good, well-maintained golf course.

Before making any changes to your irrigation practices, it makes sense to start with an audit of how you’re doing and where improvements can be made. A thorough irrigation audit can help you pinpoint the easiest areas to tackle. It would determine water use per acre and make sure your calculations are correct. Map your irrigation system, noting the efficiency and working order of every nozzle and valve. Adjust sprinkles, nozzles and water pressure as necessary, ensure your irrigation system’s programming reflects the changes and plan to address any deficiencies.

In the recent years the irrigation system efficiency improved through the use of new technologies:

  • Using sophisticated on-site weather stations, weather reporting services and other resources to determine accurate daily irrigation replacement needs, thus reducing over-irrigation.
  • Improving irrigation uniformity through careful evaluation of sprinkler head design, nozzle selection, head spacing, pipe size and pressure selection. There is a popular misconception that using more sprinklers indicates excess watering but the reverse is often the truth. More sprinklers with shorter throws are better in managing irrigated and non-irrigated turf and lead to substantial water savings.
  • Using state-of-the-art computerized control systems, portable hand-held controllers, and variable frequency drive pumping systems to apply water in the most efficient means to reduce water and energy consumption.
  • Looking at alternative irrigation systems such as sub-surface irrigation can reduce water by up 30-60% depending on the plant species, climate and usage model. It should be noted that these systems aren’t always appropriate.

Architects have to take the lead in bringing up the need for these technologies to be implemented on the course. Efficient water translates directly to firm and optimal playing surfaces which in turn has a direct effect on player satisfaction.

3. Harvest Water on Site

Effective collection and utilisation of rainwater is the first critical step in water conservation and course design plays a huge role in achieving this.

Golf Courses are large areas of land which means the volume on rainwater that enters a golf course can be significant. This water can be collected and stored for later reuse in your irrigation system. A rainwater harvesting system could be implemented across a golf course so that water is collected during winter months, for reuse during better weather. Managing the water run-off into catchment-based source means that is can be directed into attenuation structures such as ditches and ponds. If the course design provides for better rainwater collection, this is a great start towards improved water conservation. Away from the course itself, several efficiencies can be made on water collection. Harvesting rainwater from the clubhouse roof is just one.

4. Review your Maintenance Practices

Best Management Practices for water conservation could be described as the combination of cultural maintenance practices that provide adequate turf quality for the game of golf while minimizing water use. These could include:

  • Selecting low-water-use turfgrasses (see later paragraph), rough, shrubs and trees for use on the course.
  • Use Soil Moisture Sensors, if you’re not already doing so, add soil moisture sensors to your golf course maintenance toolkit. Far more efficient and affordable than in the past, these sensors measure moisture content in turf and enable you to dial in irrigation efforts.
  • Providing adequate levels of nutrients to the turf, including a balance of potassium and nitrogen, while avoiding excessive levels of nitrogen.
  • Using mulches in shrub and flower beds to reduce water evaporation losses. Mulch could be used in certain areas of a golf course which could help retain moisture in soil, reducing the need for additional irrigation.
  • Adjusting mowing heights to the ideal levels, depending on species and seasonal water use characteristics.
  • Using soil cultivation techniques such as spiking, slicing and core aerification to improve water infiltration and minimize runoff during irrigation or rainfall events. Aeration, sand topdressing, verticutting and a good fertility management program assist with soil compaction and allow for better moisture penetration, saving water usage in the long-term. Using wetting agents or soil penetrants also helps ensure the water you are using will be readily absorbed into root systems.
  • Improving drainage where needed to produce a healthier turf with better HTML Content systems that can draw moisture from a larger volume of soil.
  • Limiting cart traffic to paths to minimize turf wear and limit soil compaction.
  • Cycling irrigation sessions to ensure good infiltration and minimize runoff.
  • Root pruning trees near critical turf areas to prevent tree HTML Content competition with the turf for moisture and nutrients.

There are other simple steps you can take to help conservation efforts. Make sure your mower blades are sharp and reduce the height of the cut in the rough. Consider hand watering instead of turning on irrigation heads and wash equipment with pressurized air rather than water. Don’t skip routine golf course maintenance practices.

5. Explore Alternative Sources or Water

Being smart about water conservation means being aware of all water sources around you. Alternative sources to consider include wells, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams.

During periods of drought and water use restrictions, it is not hard to understand why many communities are concerned about golf course use of potable water supplies, either from municipal sources or from on-site wells. In response, many golf courses have developed alternative irrigation water supplies that do not depend on potable sources. These include:

  • Recycled water is increasingly becoming the main source of irrigation and proper storage of the recycled water is critical. Storage ponds to collect storm runoff water that might otherwise be lost and wasted. Some architects have opted for underground storage tanks which has been very successful. It not only keeps the recycled water from deteriorating but also drastically cuts evaporation losses. The water storage -can then be used as a play area or teeing surface. using greywater and rainwater rather than supply from the mains.
  • Use of tertiary treated effluent from municipal sewage treatment facilities.

This recycled water provides moisture and nutrients to the golf course while helping the municipality avoid discharging the effluent water into nearby rivers. The turf does an excellent job of filtering the water of nutrients and breaking down various chemicals and biological contaminants in the water.

  • Use of brackish waters or even ocean water to supplement other water sources. Bermudagrass is quite tolerant and seashore paspalum is very tolerant of high salt content water, allowing golf courses to irrigate with brackish waters that otherwise have little other use.
  • Construction of reverse-osmosis (RO) desalinization plants on-site to produce irrigation water from ocean water or brackish water where other supplies are not available or are very expensive to purchase.

Water reuse is a great option for golf course irrigation. Using recycled water is not only better for the environment, but it’s also cheaper than using potable water. However, water reuse can come with its own challenges. For one, many sources of wastewater are excessively saline and contain other contaminants, so they need to be treated before use. It’s very expensive and energy-intensive to build and maintain pipelines for transporting the wastewater to and from distant treatment plants for reuse. Instead, it makes more sense to treat the wastewater on-site and then reuse it locally.

6. Consider Planting/Converting Drought Tolerant Turf

The selection of appropriate turf plays a vital role in managing the recurring costs of golf course maintenance. Although it not always possible to convert turf on an existing course, using Fescue grass for instance can reduce the amount of water needed as it requires less water than usually turf grasses

This isn’t necessary across all areas of a golf course. Certain types of grass thrive better under certain conditions so matching this to your climate ensures that your grass is more likely to be healthy.

Selecting the correct species of grass for your climate can help to reduce the amount of water you’ll need, because the type of turf will dictate the water usage, the frequency of mowing and the resources required to maintain it. Added benefits of this can be reduced fertilizer and pesticide use, better playing surfaces and less CO2 being emitted from machinery.

7. Educational Opportunities

There are many industry periodicals that routinely explain and promote the use of water-conserving practices, and there are numerous books related to golf course irrigation are available for practitioner, also the greenkeepers associations regularly present seminars concerning golf course irrigation and practices to deduce water usage.

It is important to educate course and club house personnel about water conservation and protection and provides recognition to courses that take significant steps to conserve water.


In conclusion, there are several ways that a golf course can use water more efficiently. By reviewing the course design, implementing the irrigation system, installing rainwater harvesting systems, reviewing the maintenance practices and using drought-resistant plants golf courses can reduce their reliance on irrigation and make more efficient use of this precious resource. Implementing these strategies can help golf courses reduce their environmental impact and ensure a sustainable future.