Published on 05/24/07

Golf course water needs

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Mark Esoda has a plan for how he'll get his "lawn" through Georgia's drought: stop watering here, cut mowing and fertilizing there. ... His plan will save water on thousands of acres this year and keep hundreds of thousands of golfers happy.

Esoda, the golf course superintendent for the Atlanta Country Club, developed his plan after taking an extensive class, "Best Management Practices for Golf Course Superintendents."

Class work, homework and extra credit

"This was a national class we presented in California," said Clint Waltz, one of the course's instructors and a turfgrass specialist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "We asked each participant to return to their home state and develop a 'best management plan' for their facility."

Esoda did his homework and extra credit, too.

He decided to encourage fellow members of the Georgia Golf Course Superintendent's Association to develop BMPs for their courses. Besides saving and managing water, Esoda saw the plans as a way to show that when it comes to preserving the environment, golf course superintendents are forward thinkers.

He met first with the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "This was 2004," Esoda said. "At the time, the state's outdoor water management plan was being developed."

To save and use water best, the plan needed expert input from the industry. "The original plan for golf was only exempting misting of greens," he said. "That was unacceptable. Having us on an odd-even schedule wasn't a smart watering plan, either," because it would use more water, not less.

Rallying the troops for the cause

Esoda made a deal: Give him three years and he'd have 75 percent of the GGCSA members using water BMPs.

"Superintendents are smart," he said, "and they should be doing this anyway. They should be monitoring their water usage. It's just good management."

With help from Waltz and UGA agronomist Bob Carrow, Esoda developed an outline for superintendents to follow. Because of Georgia's diverse climate and soils, the BMPs would have to be specific to each golf course.

"This isn't a one-size-fits-all situation," Waltz said. "South Georgia's conditions aren't similar to north Georgia's. The soils are different, the environments are different and the grasses are different."

A promise kept

Last week, Esoda made good on his promise, and then some. He handed EPD Director Carol Couch 229 BMPs. Now 89 percent of GGCSA members have them for their golf courses.

"We have a bad reputation when it comes to water usage," Esoda said. "Everyone thinks we use too much water and too many inputs. The truth is we don't use too many inputs and we do manage our water."

Waltz said the superintendents have elevated themselves in the eyes of state regulatory agencies. They "want to be viewed as part of the solution, not the problem," he said. "(Couch) called the superintendents pioneers in the area of water conservation."

Previous water rulings, he said, have unjustly singled out golf courses as nonessential water users. "They are essential," he said, "economically and environmentally."

Managing a precious resource

Businesses that rely heavily on water, such as golf courses, would be devastated if the state cut off their access or strongly restricted their usage, Esoda said.

"We don't feel that the state would ever cut us off completely," he said. "But now, we have plans and strategies in place for what to do if they do turn the water off or add more restrictions."

Esoda has put his course's plan into action.

"We've had to cut off watering roadside areas and driving ranges," he said. "We're saving water for our playing surfaces. It's time to show the world that we walk the talk and prove that we're good stewards of the environment."

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.