This article, written by the American Ground Water Trust was originally published in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2001, Number 2]


The sport of golf is a multi-billion dollar industry that draws millions of participants annually. The lush deep-green and well-manicured fairways and greens are a big draw for golf players and fans alike. Golf courses can also offer great wildlife habitat. Many new golf courses are built each year, and many courses use thousands of gallons of well water a day to keep the turf green. In areas where annual rainfall is high, this generally does not pose aquifer overdraft problems. In areas with low annual rainfall the withdrawal of ground water can impact the levels of the water table in nearby wells by drawing down a large cone of depression around the irrigation well(s).

In some communities there are efforts being taken to limit ground water withdrawal, particularly during drought conditions. Problems arise when water is pumped out of the ground faster then it can be naturally replenished (exceeding the “safe yield” of the aquifer). As a result of the growing demand for water, many golf courses use water conservation strategies. For example, some have replaced existing turf with more drought tolerant varieties, installed more efficient irrigation equipment for watering the fairways and greens, and added water-retaining polymers to the soil.

Golf courses do offer some advantages with regard to ground water in comparison to a developed, built- up site. Turf is much more pervious than paved driveways, parking lots, or buildings, thereby increasing the total volume of precipitation available for recharge to the underlying aquifer. Healthy vegetation promotes increased water infiltration to the subsurface. More infiltration results in less runoff and a reduction in erosion and sedimentation problems in nearby rivers and streams. The vegetation provided by a golf course maintains an area within the community where natural-soil filtration may reduce the impact of airborne contaminants and help to offset the effects from nearby impervious built-up areas that collect and concentrate non-point source pollution derived from human activities.

Golf course superintendents must be careful to properly manage the application of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. They should do so in order to minimize course operating costs, but more importantly, to control and avoid the potential for adverse impacts to ground and surface water. Many golf course managers are incorporating pest-resistant vegetation and understand that “less is more” when applying chemical products.

It remains to be seen how individual towns, multi-community areas and state/regional governments will manage their finite water supplies in the face of growing populations, ecological and environmental concerns, and potential water shortages. Golf courses are one of many land uses and activities that use water in a community. The key to sustainability of our life-styles will demand choices and compromise among land-use options and the allocation of natural resources.

[© American Ground Water Trust. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to its source as an article in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2001, Number 2]