How will golf courses deal with America's historic 1,200-year 'megadrought'?

Decades-long combination of lower-than-usual precipitation and creeping temperatures lead to big changes in desert course upkeep.
An aerial view of the California Aqueduct, which moves water from northern California to the state's drier south, passing near a golf course and homes in Taft. A water shortage emergency has been declared in Southern California with water restrictions beginning June 1st for 6 million residents amid drought conditions.

Climate experts believe the American West is currently experiencing a "megadrought," the likes of which haven't been seen for upwards of 1,200 years, according to measurements scientists have been taking across the most parched parts of the country.

Two factors are contributing to a dry spell that's now well into its third decade. The first: rising temperatures across millions of square miles from the Rocky Mountains westward, spanning an expanse of America from northern Montana to the Mexican border.

The second: lower precipitation totals, especially at elevations whose annual snowfalls eventually melt and feed rivers like the Colorado that provide water to millions of Americans.

These two dynamics feed each other. Flagging precipitation means less runoff and evaporation, which makes downstream lands drier and warmer, which in turn blunts upstream precipitation prospects.

As this report produced by NBC LX explains, large reservoirs used to channel water toward several cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas are at critically low levels.

As has been noted in the past, golf uses a fraction of the water used by agriculture, but absent a multi-year cooling and damping trend, western golf courses seem destined to feel the pinch of any looming sweeping water restrictions in the coming years.

For starters, the days of overseeding, which both costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and requires a course be closed for up to a month at an ideal time of year to play (early fall), seem to be numbered. Not only are the millions of gallons of water most overseed processes require likely to be used elsewhere, the costs of seed itself have skyrocketed in the last couple of years, more than doubling in some cases.

Golfers have become entitled to seeing emerald green fairways and lush rough at a time of year when such a look is wholly unnatural and increasingly prohibitively expensive. Luckily, grass-friendly paint products have become more popular and reliable in recent years, so many courses will still be able to give visitors a sense of definition between fairways and roughs.

Drought-friendly landscaping will increasingly replace out-of-play grass as water restrictions on golf courses tighten in the coming years.

In addition to cutting out the water-intensive practice of overseeding, golfers can also expect to see courses in drought-stricken areas converting out-of-play grass roughs to sandy scrub areas.

In both cases, golfers who enjoy the game west of the Mississippi would do well to adjust their expectations of what a well-conditioned course is, at least until (if) there is a significant reversal of climate fortunes.

More golf course news and notes

Tripp Davis oversaw a full bunker renovation at FarmLinks in Sylacauga, Alabama.

ALABAMA FAVORITE IMPROVED - FarmLinks, which ranks #5 on our Golfers' Choice list of the top-rated courses in Alabama, just finished a complete bunker renovation, courtesy of architect Tripp Davis. Davis has been busy lately - he touched up the Oaks Course at The International near Boston, he renovated Houston's historic Brae Burn Country Club and is getting underway with an overhaul of Atlanta Athletic Club's Riverside Course as it prepares to host several USGA Championships in the coming years. [LINK: Golf Course Industry]

UTAH CITY BANS NEW GOLF COURSE CONSTRUCTION - The City Council of Ivins, not far from St. George, unanimously voted to ban the construction of any more golf courses within its district. Luckily, the under-construction Black Desert Resort, which is expected to open later this year, will not be affected by the ban. Along with golf courses, the city banned any new construction of automated car washes. [LINK: St. George News]

MONTH-LONG CLOSURE NEAR ST. ANDREWS - Dumbarnie Links, the upscale Clive Clark design near the Home of Golf, will be closed through May while the agronomy team tends to the greens, which are recovering from winter weather challenges. [LINK: Course website]

GOLF-ADJACENT - Angeleños have high standards when it comes to hamburgers, and one of the best places to get one happens to be the deck of the clubhouse at par-30 Bixby Village Golf Course in Long Beach. [LINK: Eater LA]

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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How will golf courses deal with America's historic 1,200-year 'megadrought'?