Guest Editorial: Why Golf Courses Don’t Deserve Your Blame for the Water Crisis

By Tim Peeler

As most people know, Arizona and the rest of the Southwest have been experiencing water shortages for quite some time now. The long-standing drought has obviously brought some major problems to the region which will require collaboration from experts in various fields to solve. Because I am not an expert, I will not be attempting to solve this immensely complex and difficult problem. Instead, I would like to focus on stopping the unnecessary vilification of golf courses and residential grass lawns in the context of our water shortage. 

Many of the non-experts that I’ve spoken to about the water shortages, especially people who do not live in the Southwest, point to “luxury” water usage as key reasons for the shortage. The two water uses that I most hear people complain about or label as “luxury” or unnecessary are golf courses and residential grass lawns.

I don’t think it’s surprising that golf courses and grass yards are among the most vilified uses of water during a drought. It seems to follow common sense logic, at least to some extent. The first reason is that golf courses and residential grass lawns are very noticeable from a visual standpoint. The emerald green grass from golf courses and yards stand in stark contrast to the beige, brown, and reddish hues of the surrounding desert. The second reason is that both golf courses and grass lawns are seen as unnecessary by many people, especially compared with other water uses such as drinking, bathing, cooking or even agriculture. Combine these two factors with knowledge of a water shortage and you have many people coming to the conclusion, “Why don’t we just ban all golf courses and grass yards?”. 

As I stated previously, this seems to follow some sort of common sense logic, but does common sense without thorough research really help us in solving far-reaching, complex problems? I would argue, no. Let’s break down a few basic facts of the situation. Depending on who you ask these numbers may fluctuate slightly, but the agriculture industry uses about 70% of the water allotted to Arizona, municipalities use a little over 20%, while industrial use is slightly under 10%. Beyond that, golf courses which are included in municipal water use only use a little over 1% of the total water for the state of Arizona. 

These stats are not meant to paint agriculture as the water villain. In fact, the agriculture industry uses the same amount of water in Arizona as they did over 60 years ago while producing greater yields, and they continue to improve efficiency as technology advances. Efficiency also isn’t a major problem for golf courses as they’re already doing everything they can to save water in the name of making a profit. Additionally, golf courses provide rich ecosystems for many native plants and wildlife which makes it harder to make the claim that golf courses negatively impact the environment. 

My overall point is don’t act like you have the solution if your solution is to ban all golf courses and grass lawns, because it would hardly make a dent in our water conservation efforts and we would lose out on the roughly $6 billion dollar industry that is golf in Arizona. If you truly care about the water problem in Arizona, don’t disparage your neighbors. Instead, look to the experts, educate yourself, and know political candidates positions on the water crisis before you vote!