According to the National Golf Foundation there are now over 16 thousand golf courses in the United States making up about half of the worlds courses. If you laid all of these courses together they would be the approximated size of the country of Costa Rica. The problem is that Costa Rica of golf courses needs a lot of water to keep itself green, hence the term greens. Audubon International, an organization that provides education and assistance needed to practice responsible management of land water and wildlife, estimates that average American course uses over three hundred thousand gallons of water per day. Courses in the dessert like Palm Springs, California use up to a million gallons of water a day to keep their fairways green. To put this in perspective, the amount of water that one golf course in Palm Springs uses in one given day is equal to what a family of four will use in four years. Multiply that by fifty, the number of courses in Palm Springs, add a drought to Southern California and you can began to understand why people have become concerned.
With water supply shortages happening around the globe and water rationing becoming mandatory in some counties across the United States, there are a number of course designers, owners and managers that are starting to work on conservation which has become an integral part of a courses architectural work.
In 1995, eighty-one people got together in a conference room at Pebble Beach for a three day conference to discuss what could be done to make golf more eco-friendly. Those present at the conference were representatives from the golfing community as well as leading national and local environmental groups. At the time no one had any idea if the conference would get anywhere or if these guys would even talk, however sixteen years later, after five national conferences and a handful of smaller meetings, they are still talking. As a result improvements have been made, guidebooks, reports, and educational videos have been published and the effort, which has become known as the Golf & the Environment Initiative has open the door for positive changes in the game.
In an attempt to preserve the valuable wildlife habitat, as well as water conservation, land use has become a significant issue. Golf course designers like Arnold Palmer have long held an environmentally friendly position throughout the design and construction of his golf courses. Palmer has worked closely with golf course construction companies like Outside the Lines, that adhere to a least-disturbance approach that focuses on every opportunity to incorporate unique existing site features into the layout of the golf course.
Golf course superintendents and grounds keepers around the world have found practical ways to approach water conversation in an attempt to make golf more eco-friendly. Over the years a number of courses have gone green by being less green, as they are being returned to their natural state. Recently, innovative golf course managers have been converting highly maintained out-of-play areas to native species. Native species are more drought tolerant requiring little to no watering efforts as well as cut back on the use staff time, and less expense for over-seeding and other turf management supplies.
Other conservation efforts include computer controlled irrigation systems that conserve water by accurately following the current weather conditions. Systems like these can help determine hour by hour how much water the course needs. Some courses have even added water features such as lakes, rivers, waterfalls and ponds that help collect water and reduce the amount of turf coverage drastically. Realistic lakes and water features also help create challenging hazards for the golfers and enhance the natural beauty and land use of any course as they attract colorful birds and other wildlife.