While drought is raging in France, accompanied by very legitimate restrictions on the use of water, our sport, which nevertheless operates with full responsibility and solidarity in this difficult context, is currently under attack from some politicians. Unfair in the media regarding watering of golf courses.
Even if you were the first witnesses to the very important efforts of our golf courses in this field, it seemed to me important to share with you, in complete transparency, the numbers and information I am seeking with the Federation teams, our decentralized bodies (the Associations and Divisions Committee), our clubs and the representative bodies of the sector, for publication on Wide scope in the last days of the French so that the truth may be restored and the image of your discipline be preserved.
Average water consumption on our golf courses over one year
The average annual water consumption on a golf course is 25,000 cubic meters per year and each 9-hole section. It is therefore very far from the figure reported in recent days by some politicians referring to the consumption of 5,000 cubic meters per day or 1,825,000 cubic meters per year. It is very difficult for us to remain silent in the face of numbers that are 36.5 times higher than reality. Only ignorance can lead to such contradictions.
Water consumption for our golf courses in dry conditions and water on the surfaces
In the event of a severe and prolonged drought, only greens (necessary for the survival of the cycle) are watered. It represents only 1 to 2% of the total golf course area. Like me, you realize then that 98-99% of the total golf course area is no longer watered, which adequately highlights the sense of responsibility of all players in the golf industry. The minimum need for an 18-hole golf course to survive in hot weather is 100 to 120 cubic meters per day (the green area of an 18-hole golf course is 1 to 1.5 hectares). Therefore, for a 9-hole golf course, the minimum green survival requirement is 50-60 m3/day. Irrigation takes into account evaporation from temperature, sunlight and wind which determines the correct bio-volume titration required.
Restriction measures according to different alert levels in times of drought
Golfers, like all water users, rely on 4 levels of restrictions set by the DDT (Alert, Alert, Extreme Alert, Crises). On the cusp of a crisis, irrigation of golf courses is forbidden. Greens can be maintained, except in the event of a shortage of drinking water, by watering “to what is absolutely necessary” between 8:00 pm and 8:00 am, which cannot be more than 30% of usual volumes. A weekly irrigation sampling log must be completed. The 2019-2024 National Framework Agreement FFGOLF, GEGF and GFGA/Ministries of Environmental Transformation, Sports and Agriculture recommends the implementation of irrigation restriction measures adapted to the vital needs of golf structures and the peculiarities of grass surfaces. As explicitly stipulated in the agreement, compliance with these measures is not mandatory, as governors are able to take more restrictive measures if they see that there are concerns about a shortage of drinking water, or that local conditions dictate it. Mayors can also provide more restrictive measures.
Here is the complete table of water use restrictions on golf courses:
Complete watering ban
In application of drought ordinances in force in some departments, and despite our framework agreement, we note that watering of golf courses is now prohibited within these areas for up to October 31, 2022. Total irrigation is equivalent to the administrative closure of the golf courses concerned which inevitably leads to loss of production tool for management companies golf.
This is why each golf course concerned is now demanding an individual exemption that allows the most fragile and costly surfaces to be saved through the measures set out in Phase 4 of our framework agreement:
- Watering is reduced to what is absolutely necessary and only on the greens
- Watering only between 8 pm and 8 am.
- Irrigation can account for no more than 30% of the usual volumes
- Daily water consumption records
- No irrigation in case of shortage of drinking water
The steps the French Golf Federation is pursuing with the greatest interest, cleverly trying to conduct daily dialogues with the state and communities to find solutions.
If we seek exceptions on a case-by-case basis, when the situation at the local level permits, we in no way ask for them when the pressure is such that the population must be supplied with water from cisterns.
The issue of keeping the vegetables watered
Golf is a leisure sports business that includes an economic sector that must maintain its activity in the face of the risk of causing a significant impact on its sector (unemployment, operating loss, bankruptcy). We must remember that the economic sector that we are defending represents an economic weight of more than 1.5 billion euros in France and provides 15,000 jobs, including 7,500 direct jobs in this field. 83% of these positions are permanent, 61% are vacant positions, and cannot be transferred. Since the course is the first element of the economic tool, it is necessary to maintain it by going through the minimum vitality irrigation. Only the green color remains the basic element to ensure the exercise of activity, hence the agreements concluded with the public authorities to be able to preserve it as much as possible.
Golf green is a grass grown on drained sandy soil. Without watering for several days, all the weeds on the greens will die because the roots of these plants are weak, which makes them very sensitive to drought and require frequent watering. The death of greens in summer leads to closure of the structure and loss of operation for 6 months until spring of the following year because it takes at least 3 months of active vegetation (average soil temperature >10 °C) to obtain normal green quality from a new seedling. To this 6 months operating loss will be added the cost of restoration:
- Per sowing, the average cost of renovation is about 3 euros excluding VAT per square meter, i.e. 30 thousand euros per hectare of green space.
- The average cost per shell is about 30 euros excluding VAT per square meter, i.e. 300,000 euros per hectare of green space…
- In the course of this business, golf courses must be closed with all the consequences in terms of employment.
Golfers and operators unite to act responsibly
While golf is now the fourth most licensed sport in France, far from the cliché some are still trying to stick to, it is a 2024 Olympic discipline, a bogus debate about class environment initiated by some politics. To artificially distinguish us from other team and popular herbal sports that our opponents do not target without mentioning their name. Moreover, not taking into account the work that has been done since the droughts of 2003 and 2005, with all the ministries involved whatever their political colour, for more than 20 years seems to us unfair towards the golf courses that have achieved their goals. Reducing water consumption by 30% each year with a significant investment.
We will relentlessly continue to recover the truth before we, as responsible actors, continue the ecological transformation that we have begun long ago, in particular, with rational management of water resources.
As such, and in a more structural way, we will coordinate with relevant ministries and basin agencies to create an investment fund to finance the renewal of irrigation systems, which consume less quantities, as well as the construction of golf courses.
And I will make sure, with all players in the industry, to remind all golfers of how important it is to get used to playing on less green and harder surfaces from now on. Look at the quality of the tournaments organized by the Royal and Ancient in the British tournaments. All surfaces are yellow due to drought, except for the greens. The British Women’s and Men’s Open have always been and are today more than ever the reference sporting events in our discipline, despite the stress on water resources.
In a way, it’s as much a return to basics as it is a return to the meaning of history. I know I can count on each of you in the collective interest.