Golf Course Water Efficiency Introduction

For many water utilities, golf courses are their customers with the highest water usage, especially during the seasonal peak when utilities are struggling to meet water demands.   Water conservation opportunities are considerable and economically advantageous for the utility seeking to reduce peak demands.   One of the greatest impediments to achieving water savings in this sector is the common disconnect between the person that pays the water bills, the owner(s), the course manager, and the various contractors that maintain the facility and equipment.  Water saving potential is enormous, but successful implementation requires a cooperative effort from everyone involved.  


Landscape Irrigation

The quality of a golf course is often defined by the quality of the landscape, and maintaining the quality is very difficult.  The vast areas of turf are under constant assault from golfers and carts trampling the vegetation.  The hilly terrain makes applying water and water retention difficult.  Irrigation must occur during limited evening hours; station schedules are determined more by available watering times than the water absorption rate of soils.  The irregular shape of courses makes irrigation uniformity very difficult.  All these issues can lead to excessive water use, especially where the golf course is located in regions with arid climates.

Turf requires an average of 25 to 60 inches (63.5 cm to 152.4 cm) of water annually, depending on climate, to maintain a healthy appearance.  Most of this water is required during summer months (1.5 to 2 inches per week (3.8 cm to 5.08 cm), when rainfall is lowest, often totaling less than 0.5 inch per week (1.3 cm).  Unlike trees and shrubs, turf grasses have very little capacity to store water and withstand periods of drought.  Golf course turf usually needs water applied at least twice per week in the summer.  Any deficit in rainfall must be supplemented with irrigation.  A typical golf course requires 100,000 to 1,000,000 gallons (378.5 m3 to 3,785 m3) of water per week in summer to maintain healthy vegetation.

Improving the water efficiency usually requires proper scheduling of the irrigation and improving irrigation uniformity.  A water audit, conducted by a trained professional, is required to determine the proper equipment needed (spray heads, water pressure regulators, controller, etc.) and a schedule based on the evapotranspiration rate of the vegetation.  Weather based irrigation controllers (WBIC) can automatically adjust irrigation schedules to local conditions, but must be installed and set up properly to achieve any water savings.  Irrigation equipment only provides the tools for water efficiency; the tools must be used properly.

Water audits performed across the country suggest that many golf courses use 20% to 50% more irrigation water than necessary.  Reducing this overuse can save many golf courses 50,000 to 500,000 gallons per year (190 to 1,893 m3), or more.  Specific savings are highly dependent on climate and pre-existing equipment.  A professional water audit is required to reasonably estimate water savings potential at any given golf course.

Reclaimed Water

Where the local wastewater treatment agency provides reclaimed water (wastewater treated to drinking water standards, though deemed non-potable), golf courses provide an excellent opportunity to supplant potable water use with reclaimed water use.   Landscape irrigation is the most obvious opportunity to use this water, especially fairways and surrounding roughs.  It is important to note some vegetation for the greens cannot tolerate the high total dissolved solids levels of reclaimed water.   Reclaimed water can also be used to supply water to toilets and urinals.  Depending on the water quality requirements, many cooling towers can also use reclaimed water rather than potable water.

In all applications, the reclaimed water must be strictly separated from potable water sources and end-uses.  This requires a clear separation of pipes supplying water to the end use (irrigation system, toilets, urinals, cooling tower, etc) from pipes supplying potable water to faucets, drinking fountains, etc.   Irrigation systems are usually on separate meters and water supplies, thus this is the most common application for reclaimed water use. 

The water supply pipes for toilets and urinals are often interconnected with faucets and drinking water fountains requiring extensive plumbing system retrofits if reclaimed water is to be used.   Retrofitting a pre-existing plumbing system inside an office building is usually too costly to justify the use of reclaimed water to flush sanitary fixtures. 

When constructing new facilities, the cost to separate the water supply pipes for sanitary fixtures is marginal.   Many water agencies are now requiring new commercial buildings to be dual plumbed so that reclaimed water can be used to flush sanitary fixtures, even if reclaimed water is not immediately available.  Commercial property developers report this has added less than 15% to the total cost of the plumbing system. 

Storm Water Collection and Use

Collecting the storm water or rainwater on the building site (roof, parking lot, hardscape, landscape, etc.) is one of the fastest growing strategies in the water conservation industry and green building efforts.   There are three distinct advantages to this strategy:

  • The collected water can be stored and then used to irrigate the landscape during drier months.

  • The water collected is prevented from entering the storm water system, which is often overtaxed in urban areas resulting in flash floods.

  • The pollutants from the building site (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, animal waste, automobile fluids, etc.) are prevented from being carried by storm water to streams, rivers, and other sensitive aquatic ecosystems.

Many golf courses include water retention ponds to capture landscape run-off and provide water features on the course.  These ponds can often be utilized to store water collected from the parking lots and roofs of buildings.  When excess water is available in the ponds, the water can be pumped to use for irrigation.

Restroom Fixtures

Restroom fixtures should also be evaluated for conservation measures. Public restroom audits will help determine the feasibility and benefits of replacing restroom fixtures. Golfers and other visitors to the facility will add significantly to the daily flush counts: estimated at 1 to 3 flushes per golf round.  Golf, like many sports activities, tends to induce the participants to increase their intake of liquids, resulting in more urinal and toilet flushes.

Food Preparation

Many golfing facilities include restaurants, bars, and banquet services. Food preparation and dish washing present excellent opportunities to conserve water. . 

Food is often heated in conventional steamers using a central boiler; connectionless steamers use a reservoir and condensed steam system that can save thousands of gallons of water per year. 

Pre-rinse spray valves, often using as much as 4 gpm (15.1 lpm) are used to rinse dishes before they are loaded in the dishwasher; new, efficient spray valves use only 1.2 gpm (4.54 lpm) and can save hundreds of gallons per day depending on volume and type of meals served. 

Ice machines are commonly found in food and bar service facilities. This equipment can use surprisingly large amounts of water.  Depending on the model and the settings, ice machines use 2 to 18 pounds (.91 kg to 8.2 kg) of water for every pound of ice produced. Replacing water-cooled ice machines with air-cooled models can result in significant water savings.

The water efficiency of commercial dishwashers also varies greatly.  The high cost of these machines often impairs the benefit-cost ratio of early replacement; but as older dishwashers fail, high efficiency models should be installed as replacements.