By Ted Johnson
When the U.S. Open is at Pebble Beach (most recently this past June), the golf course comes under control of the United States Golf Association. It goes without saying that the host course always feels pressure to produce a stern test for the world’s best players.
For everyday play, there’s another kind of pressure that confronts the Pebble Beach Company. With a round costing around $500, there’s added expectation for premier playing conditions. And these days that can lead to questions about the environmental impact of maintaining a public facility to such high standards.
It should be noted that the Pebble Beach Golf Links is exceptional – and this has nothing to do with the holes along the bluffs. The namesake course gets about 65,000 rounds a year. Compare that to fellow Top 10 courses like Augusta National and Cypress Point, which hold – maybe – 10,000 rounds a year each.
Also, Pebble Beach is in Monterey County, which is not part of the California Aqueduct system. As a result, there have been times in the past when Pebble Beach and other Pebble Beach Company courses had fallen into less than pristine condition, particularly in drought years.
The solution turned out to be a “green” one. Sixteen years ago, Pebble Beach Company joined a local collective that set up a system that turned an old, local but off-property reservoir into the source for reclaimed water. Piping and pumps had to be installed, and it all had to be earthquake-proof – at a cost in the millions that resort guests don’t see. This water is used to irrigate landscaping and golf courses. For the golfer, the benefit is a Pebble Beach Golf Links that plays to exalted standards and yet doesn’t bring a political backlash during droughts.
“It’s not cheap, but for us it was the only way to go,” said Chris Dalhamer, the chief superintendent at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
There is a downside to reclaimed water. Salts in the water can build up in the soil, and that can affect agronomy. Dalhamer said the reverse osmosis process employed in the local system “fine tunes the water so that salt is no longer an issue, and it’s been that way for the last two years. It saves us a ton of potable water.”
Other “green” initiatives include composting all grass clippings for mulch to be used in landscaping at the three Pebble Beach Company resorts. Also, extra care is taken to ensure fertilizers and pesticides do not enter the local streams and watersheds that bisect all the courses. And at Pebble Beach Golf Links, added care is taken to ensure nothing leeches into the Pacific Ocean.
“We have large buffer areas near the coastline, and we monitor that closely,” Dalhamer added. “And we monitor the creeks, too, to see what’s in them and where it’s coming from. We look at all of that very closely.”
For all that, Pebble Beach Golf Links is an Audubon Sanctuary course, and yet the greenest thing is turning dirty water clean again, keeping the course vibrant and exciting to play, everyday.