Golf courses tend to get a bad rap when it comes to water conservation. Critics look at acres and acres of grass and point to the millions of gallons of water it takes to keep it green and growing.

Golf is an easy target, but the reality is this industry is leading the conservation charge, as many courses use reclaimed or well water, which doesn’t affect the drinking supply. And the ones that are using potable water, many have instituted turf-reduction programs. According to the Southern California Golf Association, golf courses use less than 1 percent of all drinking water in the state.

JC Golf has been lauded by industry experts for its water-saving efforts, as all but one of its 7 properties in San Diego and Riverside counties run primarily on reclaimed, well or run-off water.

“Water is a valuable resource and so for years we have been finding ways that we can be sustainable well into the future without sacrificing playability for the golfer,” said Erik Johnson, JC Golf’s director of golf operations.

The one property that relies on potable water – Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club – recently removed more than 50 acres of grass, replacing it with more than 2,000 drought-tolerant plans, shredded redwood bark and decomposed granite. It will reduce the course’s water use by approximately 40 percent.

“We took steps before the mandate from the governor,” said head pro Brandon Delgado. “We’re ahead of it and we’re going to save 40 million gallons of water a year, enough to supply water for 400 single family homes. That’s a big step in the right direction.”

At the Rancho Bernardo Inn, the tee boxes and fairways (approximately 98 percent of the course’s turf total) are supplied by well and run-off water from surrounding neighborhoods. The course also features a sophisticated irrigation system that controls each sprinkler head by a computer and can suspend operations during high winds.

The course also has an onsite weather station that monitors evapotranspiration (ET), which measures the transfer of water from the ground to the air and provides vital information for accurate scheduling of water use. Twin Oaks, Encinitas Ranch, Temecula Creek, Oaks North and Reidy Creek also have weather stations and site-specific conservation programs.

“JC Resorts golf properties began employing state of the art conservation practices and water footprint reductions long before the current drought, putting them in position to meet the governor’s call for 25% cutbacks without sacrificing playability,” said Craig Kessler, the director of governmental affairs for the SCGA.

There’s no question course aesthetics are changing as a result, prompting a phrase adopted by the U.S. Golf Association: “Brown is the new green.” That was certainly on display at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay last month. And it’s coming to San Diego, if not already.

“Think of the beauty of the Masters. There’s not one blade of grass out of place, but to be honest we don’t live there,” said Johnson. “We live in an arid climate. We’re in a desert and we need to adapt to it. But the conditions can be just as good without it being green. It doesn’t mean the turf isn’t healthy or playable.
“We’re going to develop a Southern California style of play that’s based on the resources we have. It’s an evolving mindset and we can make it the best it can be given the state of our environment.”

To learn more about JC Golf’s water-saving efforts, click here

Marc Figueroa is a freelance writer who has been covering golf in San Diego for more than 20 years.