Calif. courses are trying to save water during drought

By Associated PressMay 13, 2015, 5:05 pm

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. - At first glance, nothing seems amiss at this lush, members-only golf club in one of the priciest communities in Orange County. A bubbling fountain gurgles out of an artificial lake. Emerald-green fairways stretch into the distance. Golf carts zoom across the grass like white ants.

But behind the man-made stream and arcing sprinklers, California's epic drought is reshaping the course at El Niguel Country Club and dozens of others statewide.

Pressed by the four-year dry spell and state-mandated water cuts, some of the finest courses in California are taking such steps as tearing out the grass in places where it won't affect the game, planting drought-resistant vegetation, letting the turf turn brown in spots and installing smart watering systems.

''The new buzzword in the industry is 'Brown is the new green.' We can't provide the same kind of product as we'd like to anymore,'' said Mike Williams of Hidden Valley Golf Club in Norco. ''Everybody can't play on a lush green surface like the Masters.''

It's a move the golf industry says is necessary for its long-term survival as the drought drags on.

Last week, state regulators ordered a 25 percent overall cut in the use of drinkable water in California, leaving it up to local water agencies to decide how to achieve it. Golf courses are starting to find out what that will mean for them - cuts in their water allocations, tough sprinkler restrictions and perhaps higher water rates.

In California, an average 18-hole golf course sprawls over 110 to 115 acres and conservatively uses almost 90 million gallons of water per year, enough to fill 136 Olympic-size swimming pools, said Mike Huck, a water management consultant who works with golf courses statewide.

Some golf courses already are spending up to $500,000 a year on water to maintain that oasis look. Country clubs also realize that the sight of great expanses of perfect grass won't sit well with the public when people are being asked to take four-minute showers, flush less and let their own lawns wither.

As a result, many of California's more than 860 golf courses have jumped at turf reduction rebate programs run by water agencies. The programs offer $2 to $3 for every square foot of turf removed.

A golf course can easily tear out up to 25 acres of grass next to the fairways and around the clubhouse without affecting the game, said David Fleming, a golf course architect whose business is booming.

El Niguel Country Club applied for rebates last year to rip up 22 acres, and the final phase is now underway. The project will save 12 million gallons a year, just in time for cuts to the course's water allocation that begin in June, said Brian Archbold, golf course supervisor.

On a recent spring day, golfers playing in a charity tournament at El Niguel putted their way around dozens of orange-shirted landscapers who were gouging out dead grass and planting buckets of drought-tolerant species such as firecracker plants, acacias, primavera and golden grass.

Golfer Keith Stribling has seen similar redesigns at several courses around Southern California and doesn't mind it.

''The way most courses are doing it, you can see they're not putting it right in the middle of the golf course,'' he said. ''They're just removing turf where you shouldn't be hitting it over there anyway.''

Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, down the road in San Diego County, tore out almost 19 acres late last year and replaced it with sandy beds dotted with brightly colored yellow, purple and white desert plants for an eventual water savings of 13 million to 15 million gallons a year, Fleming said. The course still faces a 50 percent cut in supply by June 1 if a local water agency's plans pass - likely meaning the rough will go dry.

The rebates have become so popular with the industry in Southern California that the regional Metropolitan Water District is talking about creating a lifetime rebate cap and taking other measures to avoid maxing out its funds.

Other courses are investing in wireless soil probes that can provide real-time feeds to groundskeepers on their cellphones. The readouts indicate exactly where to water and exactly how much, to within a fraction of an inch, eliminating the need for sprinklers that drench large areas.

Some golf courses are installing liners in their artificial lakes, turning off sprinklers in areas of less foot traffic and considering on-site facilities that treat wastewater from the sewers - a strategy Australian golf courses used to survive a recent 10-year drought.

Ed Osann, a water use expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the golf course industry must shift away from using drinkable water over the next decade or risk its future.

''We may not be at the most severe part of this drought yet,'' he said. ''This could get worse before it gets better.''

 

 

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.