Tahoe golf courses conserving water in drought

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TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) - In the early morning, streams of water fly out of sprinklers with droplets falling onto a green golf course below.

“A lot of times people think green’ means putting on water every night, daily and lots of it,” said Scott Bower, director of greens and grounds at the Martis Camp golf course.

But that’s often not the case.

Tools such as an on-site weather station; in-ground sensors that measure soil moisture, temperature and salt content; soil probes that can extract soil samples; and individually controlled sprinkler heads help prevent excess watering of the 18-hole private course in Truckee, Bower said.

“Water is such a precious commodity,” he said. “None of us want to waste water.”

Over-watering a course is bad for the game, said Jeff Clouthier, grounds superintendent for the Incline Village Championship Course, which in turn can be bad for the Lake Tahoe economy that thrives off golf as one of its main streams of summer recreation revenue.

“Our main goal is to keep the golf course as playable as we can, which tends to be on the dry side as opposed to being on the wet and soft and lush because that doesn’t make for good golf,” he said.

The 18-hole golf course operated by the Incline Village General Improvement District annually uses roughly 45 million to 50 million gallons of water to maintain the grounds, depending on the year, he said.

While Clouthier agrees that’s a lot of water, it’s in the context of maintaining about 90 acres of turf.

“We’ve got to keep the course healthy, so it’s not like we cannot water,” added Dan O'Gorman, recreation superintendent of the Truckee Donner Recreation & Park District, which runs Ponderosa Golf Course in Truckee. “People like it to be clean and green that’s the perception, and that’s what we’ve tried to maintain there.”

Ponderosa, a 9-hole, public course, uses between 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of water a night, which comes from a pond by the Truckee rodeo grounds, said Mike Stemen, TDRPD turf foreman.

Yet in late summer, brown spots usually appear on the course, O'Gorman said and Ponderosa is not alone.

Old Brockway Golf Course in Kings Beach also allows brown spots to appear.

“Condition-wise, if we have a couple more spots than you’re used to, please just roll with us,” said Dave Laurie, golf course superintendent for the 9-hole course. “We’re trying the best we can, but we’re trying to conserve water, too.”

While a brown spot here or there doesn’t impact business, he said, anything more is not good.

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