After several years of trimming at the edges and avoiding the inevitable, the leadership at North Ranch Country Club, 30 miles north of Los Angeles, came to the realization that the area would never again see water in plentiful supply to maintain 175 acres of turf on its 27-hole private golf facility.
The cost was too great. The choice to continue to use the current water allocation was not feasible.
So, when the historic California drought conditions hit this summer and the Metropolitan Water District (MDW) of Southern California, which serves Los Angeles and the surrounding area, doubled its incentive program for turf removal to $2 per square foot, North Ranch Golf Course Superintendent Ryan Bentley took off the gloves.
He showed the club’s board that it was worth moving on a dramatic 35-plus-acre turf removal program that would save the club $500,000 annually within five years, after counting the initial costs and the rebate.
“I’d like to think that North Ranch is on the front end of this, and it is one of the largest projects of its kind in the state; but it’s also about being the leader in our community,” said Bentley, who has been a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) for 11 years. “Everyone has seen what we are doing, but every club in this area is reevaluating how much turf they need to keep in play.”
According to the Metropolitan Water District, requests for turf removal rebates since the start of 2014 have nearly doubled. The rebate program calls for California-friendly plants and drought-tolerant landscaping to fill in where turf has been removed.
“The tremendous public response clearly demonstrates that Southern California residents and businesses are enthusiastically answering the statewide mandate to lower water demands in this difficult drought,” said MWD board Chairman Randy Record.
Southern California has had less than average rainfall in each of the past three years. Presently, the U.S. Drought Monitor website classifies 80 percent of the state to be in extreme drought and 55 percent of the state to be in exceptional drought. Not surprisingly, the state has mandated a water reduction of at least 20 percent for everyone by the year 2020.
“We had done all that we could do, and it was time to take a fresh approach,” said Bentley of the project, which is being handled by Jackson Kahn Golf Course Design and is scheduled for completion by summer 2015.
The upscale private club overhauled its irrigation system in 2005, and since 2007 it has been working on small projects for turf removal and even converted to a bermudagrass that needed less water.
The club also largely uses recycled and reclaimed water for its irrigation, pulling precious little from the municipal water supply. But, it still wasn’t enough. Since 2005, the cost of water has climbed annually from $400,000 to about $1.5 million. And costs will continue to rise.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime project,” said Graham Lebowitz, North Ranch general manager. “This is not just about current members, but about how we make sure that North Ranch is here 100 years from now. It’s about sustainability and looking to the future.”
The club, which was opened in 1974, currently has about 600 golf members, including some well-known athletes and Hollywood celebrities.
Other clubs in the area are in step as well. For example, Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena, a 36-hole municipal facility, has removed 22 acres of turf; and Glendora Country Club is just starting to remove approximately 25 acres of turf.
“The golf industry has heard the message for some time now, and we are doing everything we can to be leaders in the area of water conservation and sustainability,” said Rhett Evans, CEO of GCSAA. “It is not enough to say that the golf industry consumes less than one-half of one percent of the estimated water use in this country. We are all in this together.”
The rebate program and the turf removal projects in the area have combined to show a 25 percent drop in water use since 1990, according to the Metropolitan Water District, a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving nearly 19 million people in six counties.
“This year, we especially needed the public to continue its remarkable water-saving efforts to help maintain our stored reserves in case the drought carries into 2015,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, MWD general manager. “We have to make conservation and efficient water use a permanent part of life in Southern California.”