SCGA Public Affairs


Friday, June 4, 2021

Last week two of the world’s biggest oil companies suffered significant defeats on the same day. Royal Dutch Shell was found by a Dutch Court to be partially responsible for the damage caused by “climate change” and ordered to sharply reduce its carbon emissions. Hours later activist investors won at least two and likely three seats on Exxon Mobil Corporation’s Board of Directors, overcoming a fierce campaign by the company’s leadership to keep them off. They carried the day specifically to force Exxon to abandon its fossil-fuel focused strategy.

The double blow to one of the world’s mightiest and seemingly immovable business sectors elicited the following comment on the front page of the Wall Street Journal from a respected academic who regularly advises energy companies: “The events of today show definitively that many leaders in the oil-and-gas industry have a tin ear and do not understand that society’s views and the legal and political environment in which they operate are changing radically.” [Wall Street Journal; May 27, 2021]

We don’t write about the oil and gas industry here at SCGA, nor do we write about proxy battles. The point here is the universal one about the role public opinion plays in outcomes and the social/political milieu that shapes that public opinion – even for business colossi such as Exxon Mobil and Shell that may have fancied they were immune to such encumbrances.

Even those whose ears are made of tin know that California has descended into yet another drought or maybe as many suggest, just emerging from a brief pause in a much longer megadrought. The facts of the matter are overwhelming:

  • The Governor has declared a drought emergency for 41 of the state’s 58 counties.
  • Marin and other Northern California counties have imposed 40 percent cutbacks on golf courses.
  • The State Water Project has cut allocations to Central Valley farmers and others to near zero.
  • The Northern and Central Sierra snowpack is at 9% of normal for this time of year.
  • The Southern Sierra snowpack is at 4%.
  • Because of permanently warmer, drier conditions the runoff generated by the Sierra snowpack isn’t as robust as it used to be.
  • 2020-2021 is shaping up to be the 3rd driest year on record.
  • The two driest years on record were in the previous 2012-2016 drought or the 2012-2016 spike in the megadrought if you prefer.
  • The state’s reservoirs are at fractions of historical norms for June 1, with the two largest, Shasta and Oroville, at 50 percent of normal.
  • Despite some welcome late snows, the Colorado Basin is over drafted, over allocated, and in the throes of an extended drought.
  • Southern California continues to depend upon imports to supply its full water needs, and the sources of those imports are the Sierra snowpack and the Colorado Basin.

Those reading this may not find the water used to irrigate golf courses as a “frivolous” use, but California law does, which means that when the spigot starts to run dry, golf courses are placed at the end of a very long line that puts uses ahead of it that even the most avid of golfers would consider much more important. That’s the social, political, and legal environment in which golf will be struggling unless Mother Nature sees fit to bail us out with a robust precipitation cum runoff year starting October 2021.

We can’t do anything about the weather, but that doesn’t mean we have to remain passive. Golf is hardly the only “frivolous” use that will be competing for a share of the available water. We have a better case than most, and we need to make that case loud, clear, and most importantly, make it to the 91 percent of the population that doesn’t share our passion for the game. That’s where golf’s share will be determined.

Now, for the “case” in a nutshell.

Golf courses represent 3.5 percent of the turfgrass in California and use only 0.73 percent of the potable water consumed in the state. As opposed to a national average of only 12 percent, more than 33 percent of California’s golf courses use recycled water, and all but one of the 121 golf courses in the Coachella Valley use something other than potable water to irrigate their courses. The industry is practically unique among the state’s outdoor irrigators in using sophisticated moisture sensing computer technology to ensure that the absolute minimum required for turf viability is applied. And when these minima are applied to courses where significant turf has been removed in favor of California friendly drought tolerant ground cover, the water savings are geometrically enhanced.

Some detail about this “sophisticated moisture sensing computer technology” is helpful to anyone seeking to tell the game’s complete and accurate story. Mobile sensing technology collects information on soil moisture, turf vigor, salinity, compaction, and elevation and then generates GIS-accurate maps that aid with the overall irrigation system design and management. Upon installation, these systems provide real-time data (updated every 5 minutes) and allow superintendents to control individual sprinkler heads from a smartphone. These central control systems feature a complete diagnostic component that alerts staff members to stations, holes, or areas that are not functioning properly. Hardly the unsophisticated backyard irrigation system that many outside the golf industry often believe it to be.

There is much more to the game’s “case,” but the 91 percent who don’t play golf, particularly those among them in policymaking positions, don’t have the interest or even the bandwidth to hear it. Keep it simple, direct, and easy to digest. And keep repeating it. It takes a lot of repetitions to break through in a world overloaded with information.

# # # # # # # # # # #

The 9 percent who play the game know that their biggest problem at the moment is getting a tee time, not just in the public sector, but at many private clubs too. That’s how big the COVID bump is. And when increases of 30 percent or more are seen in places such as Los Angeles County that have long been identified by the National Golf Foundation (NGF) as the most golf starved region in the Continental United States, the “problem” is just that much more acute.

The 9 percent know that; they live it. But the 91 percent don’t. They’re still operating in a world dominated by pre-COVID headlines that were as misleading about the game's demise as they were obsessed with advocating alternative uses. Throw in a housing crunch of epic proportions, a homeless population in part buoyed thereby, and a looming public pension debt obligation of similarly epic proportions, and what the 9 percent may have thought was a new golf normal that would surely still all discussion of municipal golf closures has not been nearly enough to turn the dynamic around.

What did we just write about the requirement of a “lot of repetitions to break through in a world overloaded with information? And in this case information that was up until 16 months ago not much countered by a golf community largely asleep at the public relations switch.

We have written about some of the proposed municipal golf closures we were able to either completely stifle or mitigate pre-COVID, but here’s a partial list of the municipal facilities currently under active challenge to their continued existence that we are dealing with on a case-by-case basis as you read these words:

  • Tahquitz Creek (Palm Springs)
  • Fairmount Park (Riverside)
  • Willowick (Santa Ana)
  • Mile Square (Fountain Valley)
  • Mission Bay (San Diego)
  • Links @ Victoria (Carson)
  • Pico Rivera (Pico Rivera)
  • Montebello (Montebello)
  • El Cariso (Sylmar)
  • Arcadia (Arcadia)

The COVID bump will no doubt help yield even better results than we experienced pre-COVID, results that all things considered were much better than anticipated, but to the degree to which you may think that the COVID bump obviated these challenges, think again.

Nothing is self-evident. Indeed, whenever one encounters the phrase, it’s always in the form of a loud proclamation that attempts to persuade. Matters that are really self-evident require no persuasion. And if the precepts proclaimed in America’s founding document require persuasion, certainly the virtues of a municipal golf course in the middle of an urban community require a much heavier dose of it.

That “case” is a harder and more complicated one than golf’s “case” for a share of water among “frivolous” users. It’s a case much less amenable to nutshell condensation. And it’s a case we’re going to make you wait until the next Governmental Affairs Update to consider.

Archived Updates

Opposition to Assembly Bill 1910

Read More →

CGCOA Golf is Good Ambassador Program

Are you interested in becoming an advocate for golf in California? The CGCOA is seeking amateur golfers who are passionate about protecting the game of golf and promoting public policies that enable golf to flourish in California. Take the next step to becoming an advocate for golf by completing the attached Golf is Good Ambassador Application.

Read More →

FORE - Public Affairs

FORE - The magazine of the SCGA. Find archived Public Affairs articles on the website of the SCGA's award winning quarterly publication.

Read More →


It isn’t often that one bill can highlight all that separates one side of California’s great water divide from the other – from those interests fixated on conservation as the focus of future supply and those intent on pursuing a more diversified portfolio – from those who are often accused of believing that California can conserve its way out of its aridification predicament and those who are convinced that if conservation is the only tool in the state’s water resiliency toolbox, California is doomed to be hollowed out in much the same way rust belt cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit were in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

Read More →


Charles Dickens’ famous opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” comes to mind as a good descriptor of where California’s water situation and golf’s place in it stands after back-to-back record precipitation years: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...".

Read More →


Four Los Angeles City Council members introduced a motion yesterday that seeks to crack down on what the motion describes as “black-market tee time brokers” who book and resell city golf course tee times for profit.

Read More →


When introduced by Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) February 16, AB 3192 contained a provision that would have banned the use of all nonorganic pesticides and fertilizers on golf resorts in California’s Coastal Zone.

Read More →


A cautionary tale from semi-rural Santa Barbara County to remind you that the pressure to repurpose golf courses is not just a phenomenon in California’s densely packed urban cores.

Read More →


The National Golf Course Owners Association’s (NGCOA) Harvey Silverman may have characterized the City of Los Angeles’ uncommonly quick reaction to intense media scrutiny (five separate Los Angeles Times stories including a Sunday lead editorial) of the depredations of tee time brokering with his quip in the organization’s “Golf Business Weekly” about the city having reacted “faster than fixing potholes.”

Read More →


Every year there seems to be one bill filed in one house of the California Legislature that keeps the California golf community up at night.

Read More →