Peak golf season steadily approaches the Valley as concerns about water conservation efforts are being raised and countered by lawmakers and golf enthusiasts.
In a proposal sponsored by the 5th Management Plans Work Group published in late April, associates laid out conservative conservation policies and programs for Arizona’s golf industry.
The proposal would require all golf courses in Phoenix to reduce their groundwater use by 3.1% from current requirements. Initial drafts of the proposed requirements are estimated to be released in 2022 but won’t be effective until 2025.
The proposal has been met with hesitation from the valley’s golf industry, arguing that the proposed cuts on water use aren’t realistic for the thriving industry.
The Arizona Alliance for Golf, a coalition of golf enthusiasts, suggested a different reduction of a combined 1.8% from Phoenix golf courses, following a thorough report on the economic contribution of Arizona’s golfing industry.
The report, researched and funded by the alliance, estimated that the states golf industry “produced an estimated $4.6B in economic activity and approximately $388M in state and local tax collections in 2019.
The report estimated that golf tourism activity supported 50,000 jobs in Arizona, propelled golf community home values 18% to 40% above market values and golf travelers spent 2.9 times more on average than general tourists visiting the state.
“Our point with our regulators has been that golf has an incredible return on investment, when you think about the small percentage of water that the industry uses compared to the economic impact it has,” said Katie Prendergast, a director for Horizon strategies and a key contributor for the Arizona Alliance for Golf.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Geological Survey in 2015, “of the total water used in Arizona, only 2.0% is used to irrigate golf courses.” Comparatively, 73.4% is used for crop irrigation, 2.6% for industrial manufacturing and 1.2% for other uses which include livestock and aquaculture.
Additionally, the cost to irrigate golf courses comes with a steep price tag.
“Water costs make up a large portion of courses budget,” Prefergast said.
The cost of water is so high for golf courses that it incentivizes research into drought resistant grasses and more efficient irrigation systems used on courses.
“Golf has a history of being strong water stewards in the water space, there is a history of the golf industry, really leading on some of the efficiencies on some of the technologies that have been implemented, not just in the golf industry space, but I would say probably across other industry groups as well,” said Prendergast.
The golfing industry isn’t the only industry being pushed to reduce groundwater use. Nearly every industry in Arizona is being affected as Lake Mead water elevation continues towards shortages, following 20 years of trends.
“Every industry is being asked to come up with a plan that will show a reduction in water usage from previous management plans,” said Prendergast. “From an optics perspective, golf is just more visible than some of these other users, that’s part of the challenge for the industry.”