The water becomes more expensive, it becomes less. The energy to run the pumps is becoming increasingly expensive, and climate experts agree that heat waves and droughts like those that have occurred in Italy over the past two years will be more frequent in the future. The circumstances for operating a golf course are changing. So strong, in fact, that Italy's golf courses are in a state of upheaval right now.
Is Bermuda grass the savior?
Bermuda grass is on the rise. The cool season grasses that have been common to date are discarded on the fairways. "Especially after the last two to three extremely dry summers, and given the fact that we have to work without herbicides, we realized that you can't produce good quality grass anymore." Alessandro De Luca, Head of the Green Section of the Italian Golf Federation, says today.
The hot, dry summers have made one thing clear to many operators. If you want to deliver good quality with the previously common cool season grasses, you must have access to large amounts of water and also have a lavish budget. The consumption of 150,000 m³ of water for 18 holes, which then certainly occurs, is no longer justifiable in view of the general water shortage in southern Europe.
Drought damage discourages players
Not only is the water expensive if it does not come from the company's own ponds, but also the electricity for the sprinkler system. If neither is present, the fairways and semiroughs present a pitiful picture. The grass dies, bare patches form, weeds emerge. "Many plants have had to reseed completely every year," De Luca explains. This also costs money. In addition, there are complaints from members and green fee players about the poor quality of the golf courses. First of all, the golfer doesn't care what grass he plays on or where the water comes from. What matters is that it looks good and plays well.
La Bagnaia: top quality plus water management
At Royal Golf La Bagnaia near Siena, it's early December as we talk to General Manager Martin Shaw about water management and grass. The view from the clubhouse is of Robert Trent Jones Jr's excellent 18-hole course, which opened in 2011 and was laid out with Bermuda grass from the start. Between the holes you can see the five lush lakes where the rainwater is collected in winter. "We've been really fortunate this summer because we've had very good playing conditions the whole time and a lot of other courses in the area haven't because of the heat," Shaw sums up. An on-site spring is available for emergencies, and the head greenkeeper keeps water consumption low anyway thanks to constant moisture measurements. Irrigation is adjusted daily, and the course has coped recognizably well with heat and drought.
The brown shade of Bermuda grass, which goes dormant in winter, is not perceived as a problem here. Overseeding, Shaw said, is not an issue for La Bagnaia because the course is closed for about six weeks anyway. The brown shade does not represent a loss of quality, and the renounce of the overseeding saves energy and water. Water, that is needed for the next dry summer.
This is a shortened version of an article published on https://golfsustainable.com/en/ by Petra Himmel.