City of Calgary golf courses doing their best to stay green through heatwave

While it may seem like lots of water would be used, there's ways to limit the environmental impact during a heatwave, city golf super said

Unprecedented hot conditions are leaving golf courses in the rough. ETHAN WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

As the mercury rises, so often does water usage, and that is true for Calgary golf courses this June.

With the unprecedented string of days with extreme heat, Calgary golf courses are working in overdrive to prevent their greens and fairways from getting too crispy.

City golf courses were prepared though. With trained course technicians, they watch the forecast and stringently prepare to face the sweltering temperatures.

To avoid these outcomes, technicians do more than just watering. John Faber, acting superintendent of golf operations at the city, said that while watering practices change there is a lot more to it.

“We have 16 turf educated staff at the city. They are always watching the weather and are always aware of what’s coming down the pipe,” Faber said.

“To be proactive, they will put out a wetting agent which keeps the moisture in the soil. Plant nutrition is also important, so fertilizer will make the plant healthier and withstand the heat better.”

This needs to happen, otherwise, the grass would, unsurprisingly, dry up in the heat. The rough is actually most at risk as they have the least amount of maintenance done on them, according to city golf operations. The long grass stems are easily dried out compared to the fairways and greens, which require much more preparation as they are the areas with the most traffic.

Mitigating heatwave effects

Golf courses can be irreparably damaged if the grass is left without water for too long. The grass will not have functional growth in the heat. The grass will shut down, and the traffic could kill it at its roots. That is why so much care is taken to avoid people treading on brown or sun-damaged areas. That could result in the need for new turf.

All of this upkeep may seem to have an environmental impact. In heatwaves, it would seem water usage would see an exponential increase. Faber said that’s not necessarily the case.

“Water usage itself isn’t exponentially greater than normal. We have professionals to ensure the grass gets the water it needs, not excess,” Faber said.

“That is probably one of the misconceptions out there, that golf courses water just to water. We monitor moisture and see how much the ground needs to keep the turf alive.”

Confederation Park Golf Course is one of several courses operated by the city. Despite sweltering conditions enthusiasts still took the time to play a round. ETHAN WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

A change in approach

As extreme weather phenomenon’s become more extreme, city of Calgary golf courses, and the golf industry itself, are going to try and adapt to the changing climate.

The city is preparing by designing and maintaining its courses to be as resilient as possible. While using the least amount of resources possible.

“The industry has been proactive about figuring out what is needed to keep courses intact. There is a lot of science-based evidence we use to figure out how much resources we need and the timing for when that needs to happen,” Faber said.

“We’ll start to see changing turf types for fairways, greens, and roughs to make them more drought tolerant. Grasses that won’t require as much water will be chosen.”

For now, the city is still in the thick of the heat dome covering western North America. Faber said the city continues to balance out its resources so that the cost of operating the courses at this time is no different compared to normal temperatures.

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