Friday, May 15, 2015

USGA Greens and the California Drought

With the drought in California worsening, we should all be thinking about protecting our most precious resource, water. Many of you that have read my USGA Greens and The Emperor's New Clothes understand that I think that the USGA green construction method is flawed, in not only its basic concept but in many other ways. But now, I want to address an even more critical element, water demands.

In California and many other parts of the country, golf courses are using low quality water (high salts and bicarbonates) for irrigation. This trend will continue as more focus is put on a higher and greater use (people and food) of water resources, golf course irrigation will necessarily and rightly, be subjugated to use of inferior irrigation water. So now the question is, how do green construction methods affect water usage? Does a USGA green use more or less water than a California green or a High-tech pushup green?

On a recent trip to a desert golf course, the Superintendent was telling me about his flushing of his USGA greens. He was putting what amounted to well over 2 inches of water on the greens to flush the salts out. He may do this every two weeks. Mind you, most of this flushing water is lost, the goal is to force the salts past the "perched" or "false" water table. The USGA green holds water above the gravel blanket and salts accumulate there. They need to be flushed on a regular basis and in areas of the country where rainfall is minimal or drought is occurring, flushing is required to move salts out of the root profile. This USGA Report suggests that flushing (leaching) of greens requires an additional 20% of water. In my opinion, based upon years of observation, flushing may increase total water usage on USGA greens by something closer to 40%. Either way, we, as responsible turf managers should be thinking of ways to reduce water usage.

Well, what if there isn't a "perched" or manmade "false" water table caused by the gravel blanket? Would greens constructed in that fashion require flushing? Yes, they will but the amount of water to keep the salts moving downward and out of the root zone may be considerably less. Anecdotally, I have seen numerous golf courses that are growing the same turf species on USGA greens and non-USGA construction tees and the USGA greens required flushing with 20%-40% more water than their basic demand while the the tees did not require any flushing.

The golf course maintenance industry needs to do some "honest" research and possibly a little soul searching to determine if there is a way to construct greens that use less water.