Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman put it best: “Priority 1 is not to fool yourself, and you’re the easiest person to fool.”
The Coachella Valley golf community is no fool. We recognize that the task we’ve undertaken in conjunction with the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) is not going to be easy. Modern golf course superintendents are a savvy breed. They’ve already picked off most of water conservation’s low-hanging fruit — computer-controlled smart irrigation systems, maximally efficient irrigation systems, nozzle replacement programs, fully lined water features and use of non-potable sources wherever possible. They all practice the dictum that a firm and fast golf course is a healthy golf course. They all stay abreast of the latest information and technology in the field of water husbandry, much like doctors remain abreast of the latest medical research and lawyers remain abreast of court decisions.
But that is not going to be enough to reduce the water footprint of the valley’s 124 golf courses an additional 10 percent over the 5 percent reduction achieved between 2002 and 2010. A good start perhaps, but not the finish. Getting to the finish line is going to require more than those agronomic practices we already know can get us there — turf reduction, reduced over-seeding and a more “brown” aesthetic — it is going to require a different mindset, one that allows for more desert in our version of desert golf.
Before the valley’s golfers panic, that doesn’t mean dried- up, dusty, cactus-strewn properties reminiscent of a spaghetti Western. It doesn’t even mean the kinds of very popular and successful courses one can play in Phoenix, Scottsdale or Las Vegas. But it does mean something other than the wall-to-wall, lush, always verdant courses with 120-plus irrigated acres that so characterize Coachella Valley golf now — something with a little less irrigated out-of-play acreage, a little less color in the off-season and a little less of the look of the parkland oasis.
California’s urban areas are legally mandated to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020 — or at least file credible plans to meet the requirement in short order. Golf courses in Los Angeles are already in rough compliance. Courses in the San Diego area are on their way. They accomplished that by working closely with water districts and public utilities.
That same level of collaboration with the CVWD — and later the Desert Water Agency — should enable the valley’s golf courses to meet the mandates of the Coachella Valley Water Management Plan and meet them in a manner consistent with the agronomic practices that make business sense for the golf industry.
Such is the advantage of working cooperatively with a regulatory structure obligated by law to meet certain legislative mandates. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the golfers and golf clubs of the Coachella Valley and to those whose livelihoods depend upon them.
So, let’s not fool ourselves that turning the clock back to the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s is an alternative. To achieve the long-term water equilibrium required to restore and maintain the aquifer that makes the desert bloom, our businesses thrive and our golf courses prosper, we are going to have to embrace a bit more of a desert ethic.
But let’s also not fool ourselves that we’ll get to the 2020 finish line in six months — incrementally closer with each passing day yes, but not all the way home.
Stu Rowland is director of golf course operations for Rancho La Quinta Country Club and immediate past president of the Hi-Lo Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig Kessler is director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association. Email him at email@example.com
Both are members of the CVWD Golf Industry Water Conservation Task Force.