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Explore Minnesota Golf Alliance - The State of Golf

Going Green by Using Less Water

Sprinkler watering in golf course“Brown Is The New Green”

You don’t have to look far to discover that the country (and world) are experiencing a water shortage. Simply Google the term water shortage and stories of water issues pop up from all over the globe. The golf industry has always been a major water user, so they have moved to the forefront of dealing with the issues. And in Minnesota, golf superintendents are developing and implementing all kinds of ways to decrease water usage.

A Proud History of Sustainability

Unbeknownst to some, golf course superintendents have long been stewards of the environment. Whether the issue is chemical inputs, green spaces, Audubon sanctuaries or many other issues related to maintaining golf courses as environmentally sound areas, superintendents are generally working to improve the impact of their course on nature.

The latest issue to confront superintendents is water usage, as the country is facing water shortage issues that are heading, in some places, toward crisis levels.

Golf courses have met the issue head on. In 2014 at the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C., the viewing public was greeted with slightly startling images of brown areas on the course as the slogan that “brown is the new green” is fast becoming golf’s modus operandi.


Prior to the men’s and women’s open held at the famed Pinehurst No. 2 course, architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored the course to its original look of 1935. In 1935, the course featured many waste bunkers along fairways rather than lush rough that replaced them over the years, and Coore and Crenshaw turned back the clock.

They also installed a line of irrigation sprinkler heads down the middle of the fairways with full knowledge that the water would not reach the rough, resulting in the yellow and brown hues on the course.

In actuality, Pinehurst went from 1,100 irrigation heads to just 450 heads (with half of them around tees and greens) and reduced their water usage. It was part of the U.S. Golf Association‘s new “Maintenance Up the Middle” endeavor, which promotes the virtues of water reduction and sustainability. As a result, Golf Digest presented a 2014 Green Star Awards for Outstanding Environmental Practices to Pinehurst No. 2.

The changes at Pinehurst were suitable for the nation’s championship, so it is hard for other courses to gin up reasons such as tournament play as an obstacle to changes. As it is, member courses of the EMGA and others throughout the state are working to reduce their water usage, as well.

Giants Ridge

Courses have become creative in working for solutions. Giants Ridge in Biwabik has been around since 1997 and officials decided to upgrade their irrigation systems at both The Legend and The Quarry courses. Improvements included repairing and leveling irrigation heads to maintain consistent irrigation.

The resort has also begun to utilize the on-site weather station and soil moisture sensors that provide a greater level of consistency in determining water level application. The combination of these efforts results in much healthier golf courses and reduces the courses’ year-over-year water usage by several million gallons.


Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury took a different approach to water use conservation. The course has a new storm water pond that collects runoff from a nearby road. According to superintendent Dave Kazmierczak, tapping the pond for his sprinkler system could cut his groundwater use by a quarter or even a third. The Department of Natural Resources told the Associated Press that Prestwick has used an average of about 40 million gallons a year over the past decade, so the savings could be significant.

New Technology

That is certainly an idea that may be applicable to many other courses throughout the state. As is planting a new turfgrass currently under development at the University of Minnesota Extension’s turfgrass management program. The annual bluegrass strain is being developed to require less water and chemical inputs.

The bottom line is that the need for water use reduction is great, but new ways are being developed to join the effort. So the time is now to save water, money and the environment.

Explore Minnesota Golf Alliance is a non-profit membership organization whose mission is to raise awareness of Minnesota golf courses and resorts as international travel destinations. Our member facilities feature award-winning, championship golf courses and are geographically disbursed across the great state of Minnesota. The combination of exceptional quality and outstanding value make Minnesota one of the best golf destinations in the United States.

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