CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS!
Western Cape clubs improvise as water usage is substantially reduced.
Golfers this summer have reacted with shock, horror and sympathy to the images of sun-drenched courses in the Cape Peninsula and Winelands, affected by the region’s water crisis. When an aerial photo of the Metropolitan 9-holer near the Cape Town Waterfront went viral on social media, showing the stark contrast between darkcoloured greens and fairways burned white by the sun, Met members had to assure the outside world that they were very happy with the way their course was playing, and turned down the generous offers to play elsewhere on something greener.
City slickers are so used to playing on lush green golf courses, with wall-to-wall irrigation, that brown courses disturb them. It’s either a sign of extreme drought, or a golf club too poor to afford irrigation. Visually they take getting used to, but drier courses with fairways a lighter shade of green are healthy, very playable, and fun for club golfers, who find themselves driving the ball further off the tee, and hitting crisper iron shots off tighter lies, not spongy ones.
Ironically, before the water crisis led to restrictions, Metropolitan was so over-watered that drives left pitch marks in the fairways, and there was little run. It’s now gone to the opposite extreme, but something in between might be more appreciated by golfers. That scenario applies to several courses in the Cape, where greenkeepers have to deal with hot, dry, windy summers and in past years have been understandably profligate with water.
Yet the water crisis has not only forced golf clubs in the region to drastically reduce their daily water consumption this summer, but also take a critical look at their future irrigation strategy. Even when the rains return, and water hopefully becomes plentiful again, better management of this resource is needed.
Curiously, not all Cape courses have been treated equally by the crisis. Some have more water for irrigation than others, thanks to boreholes or a
Royal Cape initiatives
plentiful effluent water supply. King David Mowbray has remained as green as any Gauteng golf course, which is why the Sunshine Tour asked the club at a late stage to take over the hosting of the Cape Town Open from Royal Cape, which relies solely on rainwater from their course dams. ● ●● Incidentally, Royal Cape was not unfit to host the tournament. The course may be dry, with balls galloping along the fairways, but the reason behind the change of venue for the Cape Town Open was that Royal Cape found themselves having to host two major events in three weeks. The Nomads Nationals begin there on March 4, and the club felt they didn’t have enough water to prepare adequately for both.
Royal Cape have practised sound water management for a few years, their course superintendent Gaeren Wilkinson being one of those rare individuals who believes in starving grass with the correct amount of water application. However, after a reasonably dry winter in 2017, Royal Cape had to reduce their water usage even further, by 60% for greens and 80% for fairways, according to GM Cassie Viljoen. The rough got no water whatsoever. “Our fairways have become very dry, but they remain playable,” said Viljoen. “I’ve never hit the driver this long, the ball rolls forever!” Viljoen observed that there seemed to be fewer international visitors playing golf in Cape Town because of the crisis. “The few clubs that have the luxury of treated effluent water for their courses will have the edge on the market compared to the rest of us.”
At Royal Cape, water-saving initiatives have included cleaning golf carts with brooms, and installing mats on the driving range to reduce wear and tear. Wetting agents are used to retain water/moisture in the greens.
Most golf clubs in the Cape have either switched off their locker room showers altogether, or discouraged their use by asking members to bring their own towels. Metropolitan was told by the city council to switch off their showers. Resourceful members began bringing 20-litre camping water bags that you can hang in the showers. Racks of them are laid out in the sun beforehand to warm up.
Devonvale GC in the Winelands was dry a year ago, with the water in their enormous dam in the centre of the course slowly draining away. The estate is now using 200 000 litres daily, compared to between one and two million in bountiful times.
A farsighted committee at Durbanville planned for the future with the construction of a deep reservoir to tide them through the dry summer months, but are using a minimal 50% of their normal consumption to keep greens and tees alive
Turning off the sprinklers
Resorts, which would like to have their courses more verdant to keep tourists happy, are usually better provided for in terms of water resources than member clubs. Arabella have boreholes and dams to stay green, yet have still cut back drastically on irrigation, by a million litres a day.
“Responsible water usage has always been applicable since the resort was opened nearly 20 years ago,” said director of golf Mike Munro.
“The estate does not make use of any municipal water sources. We have our own waterworks system which includes a sewerage treatment facility. We use effluent water on the course. We’re also watering in the evenings to prevent evaporation loss.” Munro noted that the Overberg region, where Arabella is situated, close to Hermanus, is in a stronger position regarding water reserves compared to Cape Town.
Pearl Valley estate near Franschhoek in the Winelands has had to overcome hot temperatures and windy weather while at the same time dealing with the fact that their Jack Nicklaus signature course has cool season grasses on the fairways. They are excellent in the winter, but require extra water in the summer.
Pearl Valley usually receives water for the course from the Berg River, but their allocation was first cut to 60% of what it had been in 2016, then 18%, and has now been cut off altogether. Fortunately, Pearl Valley lies on a large aquifer, so has underground sources of extra water. And they have several holding dams on the estate.
“We started planning for this more than 12 months ago,” said director of golf Damian Wrigley. “We have turned
_5J1a1np1e8ri2p0h1e7r-y11sp-2ri8nTk0le9r:s07an:5d0+le0t2p:0ar0ts of the rough go. We may lose about 40% of our grass by the end of March.”
An interesting and unusual maintenance tactic to keep the course going for as long as possible has been to daily verti-drain and aerate the tees, fairways and bent grass greens on all 18 holes. This lessens compaction and allows water to reach the roots.
“Our five-year plan for the course is to reduce the playing corridor from 45 hectares of manicured turf to 31 hectares. And we will shrink the total bunker coverage. This would reduce our irrigation footprint, speed up play, and cut back on our maintenance budget. The Nicklaus Design team has put a plan together which we will be rolling out over the next two years."
The fairways at Metropolitan GC are no longer being irrigated.