Water untapped: Golfers lament golf courses gone dry

Is your golf course keeping its water coolers filled up?

It's August and it's hot. It's hot in the South, out West, across the Mid-Atlantic, pretty much everywhere.

But the days are still long and it's prime time for golf. You have about a month until your football-obsessed buddies won't play with you on the weekend. On-course hydration is especially important right now. And yet this summer, like most summers, we're noticing an influx of reviews submitted to Golf Advisor where course management isn't providing sufficient hydration to its golfers.

"No water coolers provided on the course and don't really see a cart girl driving around so on a hot day, it can be really brutal," wrote this reviewer of Meadows Golf Club in northern New Jersey. "Even with a cart girl, I'm a firm believer that every course should provide water coolers."

"The only complaint," wrote this Reno-area reviewer of Empire Ranch Golf Course: "There was no water available on the entire course. I took one water bottle thinking a drinking fountain or water coolers would be strategically placed throughout the course, especially in the summer. The last couple of holes I was really struggling."

In an analysis of our reviews, over 930,000 since the fall of 2012, we've received more 3,000 that complain about a course for having no water available. These mentions spike in the summer months, and they tend to hurt a golf course's overall or staff friendliness rating.

Great course conditions on a fun layout at a good price is generally the most important aspect of a round of golf. But no water can be a health hazard.

I'm fortunate that my munis in Austin, Texas are geared towards walkers and do a good job of tending to water jug stations on the course. That's especially true where I play most of my golf: historic, compact and shady Lions Municipal Golf Course. I walked 18 comfortably last week on a 100-degree day, which couldn't be done without ample opportunities for on-course fill-ups. There are nine water jug stations throughout the routing (several come at routing hubs), plus the clubhouse at the turn. Combined with my 24-oz. Yeti mug and my Nitron push cart that has a cupholder right in front of my face, there is no excuse for me not to be well watered. Whenever I play Lions, it's rare that a jug's water isn't cold, much less running low. I found one review from 2016 complaining about the jugs being staged late one morning, but that is an aberration.

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For a facility's staff, there can be a lot to worry about across 100-plus acres of turf and various machines and equipment courses require. Hydration stations away from the clubhouse can be out of sight, out of mind for the outside service staff, so it's important for everyone, whether it's rangers or maintenance or the cart-barn attendants to remember to check on water jugs or make sure comfort stations are functioning properly. If you're a paying golfer, and you notice an empty jug or broken water dispenser, say something. You can inform a marshal or call the shop from your cell phone.

Although in fairness, some golfers do this and then some and nothing happens.

I call [the] clubhouse and inform them that they have a course full of golfers & no water— I was assured it would be fixed ... We get to the same 2 jugs after #6 & now before #14-NO WATER!!! I call clubhouse and this time complain; after getting no where with the young kid I ask him to bring us out 2 bottles of water— he said they would—-NEVER DID!!
- Reviewer ISUSycamore89

Higher-end courses often have comfort stations built with water machines in them. Floridians love their machines with water and dense, chewable "bullet ice." The new wave of luxury clubs stock comfort stations with not just water but all sorts of goodies - all racing to achieve a maximum ratio of pounds of sugar per square foot.

We also see reviewers complain about the cost of sports drinks at the course often. They can run the cost of a beer. While we generally advocate for supporting golf courses with some added F&B revenue during your visit, if you simply can't stomach paying that much, grab a tube of Nuun tablets and add them to your water for added carbohydrates and electrolytes. Mio also makes concentrated liquid with electrolytes that you can add to water; packs are likely available at your local grocery store.

On rare occasions, I've seen on-course marshals doubling duty as roving water-jug operators. They tie down a jug or two to the back of their cart and approach every group they see and ask if they need to fill up. That is A-plus operations, and should be done more widely.

There's also the issue of bottled water. Resort or member-for-a-day courses that charge around $100 or more will have one or two bottles of water per golfer kept on ice in the golf cart included in the green fee. But frankly, two bottles of water over 18 holes in the Southeast or Southwest is not enough. Others gladly sell them to parched golfers. While facilities surely enjoy the revenue, I am noticing more and more hotel brands and other companies trying to go "bottle-free" based on customer feedback due to environmental waste concerns. The R&A ambitiously rid their tournament of single-use bottled water at this year's Open.

There are some facilities out there who fear water jugs can be a safety hazard, whether via bacteria from dirty jugs or the potential for tampering. My old muni growing up had these ancient-looking water fountains with rust all over them and the water had an off taste to it (builds character, I suppose). Some courses avoid on-course hydration all together but they are at least up front about it:

"Make sure you bring water out on the course (no water out there), but they remind you of this and supply bottles at the clubhouse," wrote reviewer 'tapidgeon' about Granite Fields Golf Club in New Hampshire.

As with most things related to the customer experience, it's all about setting expectations from the beginning: if a course can't set up hydration stations around the course, management needs to be up front about it. If something is broken, management must be proactive. The key reason most of these complaints crop up? Golfers had no idea they'd be left out to dry.

Is your course up to par when it comes to providing ample opportunities to hydrate? Review them here, or let us know in the comments below!

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
27 Comments
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Commented on

Played a course in Paso Robles, CA one summer with the temp at a lovely 105 degrees. We brought some water but ran out on the back nine. None of the water fountains on the course worked. By 17 we were all bonking and barely made it through 18. Even the cart riders were beet red in the face. I guess the course wanted to sell a lot of beer or something.

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Youngevity provides at least 3 powdered individual packets for mixing with your water that are completely natural and DON'T have the unwanted crap (sugars) found in Gatorade, NUUN, and MIO. Pollen Burst, Rebound, and A.C.T. will be better for you, and mix easily in any water bottle and they have great flavors (New Zealand Black Currant is my favorite). Many courses in my area (western PA. , eastern OH.) stopped putting out water coolers years ago due to a breakout of a bacterial infection (caused by the courses NOT properly sanitizing the water coolers at the end of EVERY day).

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Why is it the course’s responsibility? I always take everything I need in my bag when I start a round, including sufficient hydration & food. It’s not that hard.

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You must have been a Boy Scout, I wasn't. Not everybody is as together as you I guess

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In Ontario, Canada no public courses have complimentary drinking water. It’s a blatant money grab. They want to sell you bottled water at $5 for 1/2 a litre. They also don’t want to incur the labour cost of washing the water coolers every night and filling them up every morning.

They (& their lawyers) made up the excuse of liability. It goes back to a case in early 2000s when a water cooler that was not properly cleaned and refilled with fresh water developed e-coli bacteria and poisoned a few people.

Greed and laziness are their only excuses. I would quicker pay the guest fee at a private course where their is water because the members demand than be gouged by these public course operators. Lionhead, Angus Glen, Cardinal and Woodington Lake are you listening?

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here on Long Island NY, our county gov't(Suffolk) has stopped providing water on county owned courses for fear of terrorism !!! go figure !!

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Good article: Courses are taking too many short cuts with minimal staff. Never have a problem on the upscale course's with green fee's north of $85.00.

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Ash wood coarse is the best ice cold water about every 4th hole it is a Troon coarse. Apple Valley Ca.

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Michael, Spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Certainly you can do better than that post.

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Why is it the courses responsibility, if I was walking through a 100deg. desert would it be the local municipalities responsibility to have water jugs. I think not!! It’s your own damn responsibility, sheesh, bring your own hydration, wowzers 🤯

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Seriously? If you were a business owner with that attitude I certainly wouldn't be a customer and I cant imagine you would be in business long.

Staff
Commented on

If you find another desert with more shade or a nice watering hole, the other desert doesn't lose revenue or care if you don't come anymore.

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That’s a lame reply, because of ecoli and other issues(government rules)no courses in our area have water jugs, I sure the hell am not rating golf courses for their water jugs.

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Commented on

Played Neshanic Valley in New Jersey today and noticed around hole 12 that there weren’t any water coolers on the course.

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Around 15 years ago a young male in Phoenix was stricken and died from a bacterial infection. Authorities traced the source of the bacteria to water jugs at a nice Phoenix golf course he played a couple days before. His family sued and put the club into bankruptcy. The course was sold and went downhill from there, closing for good around 5 years ago. Many Phoenix courses stopped putting out water due to liability concerns, which was a major issue for locals who brave the summer heat. Most have since figured out how to get drinking water back on the course, but there are still a few that never did.

Staff
Commented on

these reports do seem to surface every few years. Very sad. If a water jug is cold I generally assume it's been tended to.

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Water untapped: Golfers lament golf courses gone dry