Water Hazard

As one greenkeeper shows, adapting to the drought is just par for his golf course.

Unimpressed by the unruly native plants, for example, one homeowner recently sprayed a ten-foot swath parallel to his fence with Roundup, a potent herbicide. Nothing lived. Others have protested what they see as a cluttered, uncultivated -- i.e., wild --landscape.

"People are always calling and saying, 'Are you going to remove this dead tree or what?'" McCleary says. "We tell them, no, we're trying to keep this as natural as possible." (The local homeowners' water extravagance does contribute to Saddle Rock's lush look, though. What was once a dry streambed bisecting the golf course is now full of water. The entire flow comes from the runoff of nearby homeowner water use.)

To help get the message across, Saddle Rock keeps a paid "golf naturalist" on staff who also arranges birdwatching tours when the course is shut for scheduled maintenance. Participants usually get a good show. Recently, the course's recirculating wetlands have produced a growing number of redwing blackbirds, hawks and a family of owls. (If golfers slice a ball there, they're out of luck; signs warn that they may not stomp around looking for it.) The staff knows the number of birds is growing because a wildlife census was taken before the course was built. The course has been certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Students at nearby Grandview High School use it for biology projects.

Joe McCleary takes a ride on the dry side at Saddle Rock Golf Course.
Joe McCleary takes a ride on the dry side at Saddle Rock Golf Course.

That isn't to say that Saddle Rock hasn't had to tweak here and there to try to accommodate the drought. In addition to reducing water use by about 15 percent across the board, carts are now required to follow the 90-degree rule. The golfer motors his cart along the path until he is even with his ball, then turns on a right angle and drives directly to it, thus stressing a minimal portion of the fairway's grass. Other fairways are closed to cart traffic altogether on a rotating basis.

Small chunks of land around each hole deemed unessential to play have been left completely unwatered. The once-lush gardens in front of the clubhouse are being converted from grass to xeriscaping. The driving range, a twenty-acre plot of previously irrigated lawn, has been taken off the water train, too.

It hasn't happened yet, but lest any golfer complain about the state of the target greens, McCleary has a solution waiting. He has already mixed up a light-green dye that he will use to "paint" the greens when their deprivation becomes obvious. "Sick, huh?" he says.

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