A Local Success

Located in an arid region, U.S. Open qualifying site Barona Creek Golf Club offers a sustainable model for reduced water use

By Pat Gross, USGA

On May 6, competitors in the U.S. Open local qualifier at Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside, Calif., will encounter a beautiful, challenging course as they begin their quest to play in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

As they grind out pars and birdies, they won’t know that the layout, part of the Barona Creek Resort set in the mountains northeast of San Diego, has many features that allow the course to remain sustainable in its high-desert setting.

From its opening in 2001, Barona Creek has had to operate with a limited water supply. The only source of water is runoff from the winter rains, which is collected in reservoirs, then recycled and reused for irrigation.

Since there is no additional water available for irrigation, the maintenance staff must utilize every drop to survive the hot summer season. During construction, the course decided to plant low-water-use bermudagrass on the tees, fairways and rough, in addition to incorporating drought-tolerant native grasses that can survive without irrigation in the rough and out-of-play areas.

Sandy Clark, the course superintendent since opening, has painstakingly recorded every gallon of water applied to the course since the beginning of the project. Below-average rainfall has presented significant challenges in some years, putting extra pressure on the need to accurately manage water. Careful monitoring and operation of the irrigation is an important task each day. In addition, the maintenance staff uses moisture meters and other technology to help them preserve playing quality without wasting water.

In addition, the course has reduced turf in out-of-play areas, such as near teeing grounds and portions of fairways, to save additional water. Near many of the teeing grounds, native grasses replaced the bermudagrass, while the strategic expansion of fairway bunkers and sandy areas enhanced the challenge for expert players without penalizing less skilled golfers. The result is a course that remains very playable – crucial for a resort course – while using less water.

Golfers aren’t the only denizens that appreciate the course, which was designed by Gary Roger Baird and Todd Eckenrode. The native grasses, combined with the lakes and water features, provide an ideal habitat for a variety of birds, fish and other wildlife. It is very common to see osprey and red-tailed hawks circling over the course.

The maintenance staff takes its environmental responsibility seriously and manages the course with wildlife in mind. Barona Creek has participated in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses since construction and has received full certification.

The program recognizes courses that are dedicated to preserving and enhancing wildlife habitat, minimizing chemical inputs, conserving water and committing to environmentally friendly maintenance practices. Barona Creek has hit the bull’s-eye in every category and continues to pursue programs and practices to make the golf course compatible with the environment.

Barona Creek Golf Club provides a great example of a course that can provide a great test of golf for competitors trying to make it to the national championship, while remaining sustainable in a challenging climate and providing a friendly environment for wildlife.

While the local U.S. Open qualifier on May 6 will shine a competitive spotlight on Barona Creek, it stands out every day as a notable example of golf course sustainability.

Pat Gross is the director of the Southwest Region of the USGA Green Section. Contact him at pgross@usga.org.