As one of the last of the Night Watermen, I have always had a special relationship with water and golf. In fact, to this day, I continue to think of myself as an “irrigation guy” forced by extreme circumstances to serve as a GCS. I get along well with water. I can’t swim in it, due to a genetic predisposition toward sinking, but it’s pretty much all I drink and it does amazingly well as medicine for stomach ailments, dehydration issues and Friday night mistakes. Turf likes water and interestingly enough, water is fairly important during grow-in.
Water is also the best refreshment when playing the back nine, although beer is superior after the last putt drops, especially if the day was hot and the putter was not.
Water is the biggest issue facing golf in the next few years, bigger than slow play, ridiculous green fees, superballs and regulatory fungicide extinction. In a recent news piece, I noticed the UN pounding the drums on the coming water shortage, gaining massive media attention, warning us that they are restless . . . and preparing to think about getting ready to consider doing something. Because it means trillions of future dollars–like carbon exchange credits, a commodity created out of nothing–they might actually move in a hurry.
Why am I barking about this again? As proactive as golf course superintendents have been, I can’t help but feel we need to crank it up a little, stay at the front of the pack. Golf should be perceived as leading the way rather than waiting to be painted as a villain. I’m still traumatized by my first big drought, the one that ran from May of ’86 until November of ’88 and acted like it was filing for an extension until I discovered how to end a drought: I simply began an in-house rebuild of 18 greens. As soon as we got the first six green cavities open . . . the monsoons came.
I forgot about drought and water restrictions until the summer of ’98. A merciless hot, turf-baking drought set in while I was involved in a minor construction project trying to raise fourteen fairways by 36″. Hard dry ground was a blessing for the construction project, but it wasn’t so great for the 19 bent greens I managed to forget about every day until a couple of hours past noon. The drought got a lot of press, people were told to stop watering their lawns, but I was working dark-to-dark and didn’t notice, until . . .
A county official arrived and told me to stop watering. I explained bentgrass lifespan in temps of 100+ and he stone-faced me. “You heard what I said. No water means no water.”
I tried to tell him nobody wanted my water–I was pumping out of the South River. I pointed toward the river, where at that exact moment, several fish were crawling out of the toxic muck and attempting to learn air-breathing. It was the only river in Georgia where the riparian buffer zone was there to protect people from the water, rather than . . . anyway, county official guy would not yield. He must have thought me untrustworthy, for he appeared early one morning in an attempt to catch me watering. As I stood there with a hose in my hand, soaking smoked Crenshaw/Southshore, he jumped out of his car shrieking, “Stop it, stop it, you’re watering!”
I invoked the Monty Python Dead Parrot defense: “No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are! I can see you! You’re watering!” I stared at him, knowing that years from now, nobody would remember the drought, just that I had lost bent greens. “No, I’m not,” I shook my head and hosed his shoes.
I survived that bureaucrat, mostly because cell phone cameras had not been invented yet and also due to our elaborate squelch-break code we ran on our walkie-talkie system. You know, two squelch breaks meant don’t say anything on the radio, I’m standing next to the Director of Parks, three meant the water cops are on the course and four meant extremely attractive woman golfer somewhere out there. But I would not have survived media attention. A good video editor could have made me look like Vlad the Impaler run amok through a petting zoo, if he so desired. I once worked on a news crew as a camera operator–news crews are like sharks in bloody water when tracking a hot issue the public is following closely–especially when the public has been told to stop washing cars, flushing the porcelain vortex and watering lawns.
One good shot of a lush green fairway during water rationing is enough to put the mobs in the streets, clamoring for water wasters to guillotine.
I think we can be ready for the water wars, but our most vulnerable point is our image, the public perception of golf, not our current infrastructure. Let’s have something we’ve already implemented, industry-wide, to show the public that we were way ahead of the pack in recognizing the potential water situation and I don’t mean something that looks like a reworked mission statement. It should be something they haven’t seen before, like artificial turf tee surfaces or centipede roughs that go dormant in summer drought conditions or artificial turf practice areas. While many point to effluent water as part of the solution, the existence of the Toilet-to-Tap program in Orange County suggests a cautious approach toward heavy investment in that direction. If the public wants their toilet water back, they’ll get it.
Well, that’s all I have time for–gotta load up the quick-couplers and start the evening cycle. It’s back nine greens and tees tonight.