U.K. upcoming drought could mean disaster for golf courses

Despite recent rain, a hosepipe ban was declared on April 5 across the south and midlands of the U.K. While media predictions of water rationing and standpipes in the street are perhaps premature, the water situation in England is dire.

There is little to laugh about in drought-torn England right now, especially for golf courses, which are under extreme threat.

Indeed a spokesperson for Veolia Water, which covers areas in the southeast, declared that, “Established turf older than 28 days old does not require watering.” If such lack of expertise on the part of water suppliers is worrying, then the situation for the harried greenkeepers is even more troublesome with neighbouring water suppliers applying different rules regarding what can be watered, and by what methods.

On some levels such a ban can be understood. Domestic customers might wonder why their water use is restricted, while golf courses use sprinklers to water their greens. However, Thames Water is already one of many utility-company bogeymen in the U.K., given that it has lost an estimated 673 million litres each day in the 12 months ending March 31 due to leaking pipe systems and inefficiency.

Golf clubs are, not surprisingly, less than sympathetic.

Nevertheless there is, to some degree, a lack of sympathy for the courses from within the industry.

“Most of the greens and fairways over here are predominantly poa-annua – meadow grass – and that is a very shallow rooted grass plant,” said Gordon Jaaback, a veteran independent agronomist who has written considerably on the subject. “It is dominant because we use sprinklers on a daily basis and over fertilize. If there is a drought this summer, then the first thing that we shall see is the meadow grass dying back. Fescues are much deeper rooted and are more drought resistant than poa, but by and large the dominance of meadow grasses has been created unnecessarily.”

Jaaback’s point is well made, but the new ban on watering comes as a double-whammy to the golf industry. Many golf clubs have already had restrictions imposed on existing abstraction licenses that would normally be used to fill reservoirs in readiness for the summer.

“We have had the second dry winter in a row,” said Caroline Spellman, secretary of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). “I think that it is more likely that the public water supply will be affected, unless we have substantial rainfall between now and the summer.”

Contour Golf is a course builder working both in continental Europe and in the southern half of the U.K. It has been warning of climatic difficulties for some time now.

“Short term there is not much to be done except perhaps using wetting agents and not taking the grass down so low in order to reduce stress,” said Ingrid Eichler, MD. “But for years now, we have been saying that the sand rootzones increase percolation to around 350mm per hour and thus invite increased use of water and fertilizer. If we went back to what the U.K. used to do so well – with fescue greens and slower percolating rootzones – then we would not be so

Add new comment

If you enjoyed this article and would like to sign up for a FREE digital subscription, click here!