David Escobedo likens the playing surface he oversees to that of grass at a professional football stadium or a top-notch soccer field.
If something is a bit off, it can change the way the course is played.
Players notice right away.
If something is tweaked, Escobedo says he might get an earful from members in certain circumstances. An bowl-shaped area on the course can get too much water or not enough on certain days, for example.
Escobedo is golf course superintendent of Westbrook Village Golf Club in Peoria, a two-course facility that gives members the option to play either 18-hole course. One course — Vistas Golf Club — opened in 1990 while the other, the Lakes, was built in 1980. There are currently about 650 members.
But a lot goes into the upkeep and maintenance from interweaving new sod into a tee box to the care for the seven ponds that help water both courses.
“We have to remember — a golf course is a functional piece of land,” Escobedo said. “Not too dry, not too wet. (It’s) a balancing act.”
In addition, Arizona Department of Water Resources directives say golf courses are given water allotment calculations officials must adhere to on an annual basis. In 2025, state regulations are expected to go into its fifth and more stringent stage — where the groundwater allotment calculation will be capped at a maximum of 90 turf acres for an 18-hole golf course.
Since 1980, officials have required more strict water conservation efforts as the decades have passed. The efforts have five tiers and are headed into the final phase of the plan.
The 1980 Groundwater Management Act helps officials manage groundwater in five active management areas: Prescott, Phoenix, Pinal, Tucson and Santa Cruz. Back then, officials saw groundwater depletion occurring and decided to put conservation plan in place.
Now, the West is in a severe drought.
Last week, the Associated Press reported officials were concerned with water levels at Lake Powell taking a drastic decline.
“From Idaho and Montana south to New Mexico and Arizona, even soil moisture levels have hit record lows as major reservoirs along the Colorado River have plummeted,” the story said. “Earlier this month, Lake Powell hit a record low, spurring concerns about the ability to crank out more hydropower from the dam that holds it back.”
Recreation Centers of Sun City officials are continuing on a plan agreed upon several years ago with Arizona Department of Water Resources to limit water use. When Viewpoint Lake developed leaks, ADWR officials laid down specific water use reduction requirements. These included upgrading irrigation systems on the rec centers’ eight golf courses.
RCSC officials also included turf reduction when the Lakes, 10433 W. Talisman Road, and Willow, 10600 N. Boswell Blvd., courses were renovated.
Water officials in the state want people to do their part to conserve.
For area golf superintendents, that means looking over data on a routine basis.
Escobedo said residents don’t realize how much effort superintendents spend on conserving water. He uses software to tell him which areas were watered by how much.
“We kind of get a black eye,” Escobedo said. “People would be surprised if they realized how much money we save on water and how environmental conscience we are.”
Golf courses are permitted to use certain allotments of water on an annual basis depending on factors that include a certain facility’s turf acreage, low-water-use plants acreage, and water surface acreages. Officials categorize golf courses in four different types based on when they were built and whether the course is championship or regulation length, said Natalie Mast of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Mast is the active management areas director and helps golf course officials stick to water management plans.
One way some golf courses are using less water is replacing grass with xeriscape landscaping.
“Typically, golf course officials try to gradually replace older golf course turf with xeriscape landscaping as a method to conserve water usage,” Mast said.
Escobedo has used different methods to conserve water from xeriscaping — replacing grass with desert granite rock — to replacing the irrigation system at the Lakes golf course.
The goal is to replace 4 to 5 acres of turf per year. Since 2015, he said officials have removed 28 acres of turf.
As the Arizona Department of Water Resources transitions into its final phase, Escobedo said state water officials could eventually force golf courses to remove turf as they see fit.
State officials will come down “heavier and harder” with water restrictions, Escobedo said. On one course, about 30-foot sections of turf were removed from where grass once butted up against walls at the edge of the course.
“We want to remove turf on our terms,” Escobedo said. “It’s less expensive.”
Going to a modern irrigation system has helped his staff be precise in caring for the courses. The new irrigation system allows officials to adjust each of the courses’ 4,000 sprinklers.
Officials can select which areas need to be water instead of having to water large portions of turf at once. The cost was $2 million for the new system, Escobedo said.
Golf professionals have traveled from as far as Chicago to see the irrigation setup in Peoria.
“We aren’t wasting water at all,” Escobedo said. “(Water usage) is cut by 100,000 gallons per night.”
Xeriscape landscaping and a new irrigation system aren’t the only ways golf club officials are cutting back on water.
Escobedo is using TifTuf grass, which is said to be tolerant to drought conditions. His staff is experimenting with Bermuda grass on three golf holes in an effort to see if the turf stays in shape with less water. He said the technology was developed at the University of Georgia.
Water conservation with Arizona golf courses is being incentivized.
The Arizona Office of Tourism is offering courses the Visit Arizona Legacy Golf Course Revitalization Grant, which “will provide assistance to older golf courses to implement infrastructure updates that modernize the courses and make them more sustainable,” the tourism website said.
“Golf-driven tourism was tied to 2.4 million visitors and brought an estimated $2.2 billion to the Arizona economy in 2019, supporting 24,100 jobs,” the website said.
The funding is a rolling grant at $8 million total and is for courses built before 1986.
Eligible courses can apply for assistance of $15,000 per acre over 90 acres, up to a maximum of $105,000, the website said.
Mast said some of the 172 golf courses in the Phoenix active management area are complying with water restrictions. She said she didn’t have exact figures of how many golf courses were currently in compliance.
“As with any (type of regulation), some do a good job with compliance and some do not,” Mast said.
Editor Jennifer Jimenez contributed to this story.
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