The Situation

A popular municipal course about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, Olivas Links (Ventura, California) was suffering the effects of deferred maintenance, turf that was not thriving, poor drainage through floodplain and the need to adapt turf and non-turf landscape to a shared irrigation source that was made up of 100-percent reclaimed water.

Forrest Richardson

So how can a municipal course reduce the amount of managed turf in areas of play, reduce the amount of water it uses for irrigation and introduce turf and out-of-play landscape plantings that will most effectively tolerate its reclaimed water source?

The Approach

The golf course architect looked for ways to reroute the golf course that would allow for more efficient management of the layout, relocate the clubhouse so it wasn’t in the floodplain, and eliminate east-facing opening holes and westerly- facing finishing holes to improve pace of play. Since the irrigation source was reclaimed water, it was important to look for drought-tolerant grass varieties and to reduce the total turfgrass footprint while maintaining strategic intent.

The Solutions

The course borders the Santa Clara River, and the design established a connection between the course, the river and its estuary to the ocean by relying on native plants and ground cover to form new landscape between holes and in open areas. Plantings that replaced turf also included a creative use of Kikuyugrass, a mainstay of California’s coastal zones, which used as rough appears to drift off into the natural landscape as if there were no formal transition.

The course was also one of the first in the Western United States to be planted with salt-tolerant Paspalum, which thrives with higher salt content in irrigation water, which tends to be the case in reclaimed water. This species is also drought-tolerant. The re-routing resulted in a better diversity of holes of varying direction and nearly 40 percent less managed turf area. To accommodate future turf limit adjustments, several irrigation heads and lines that could be used if needed as the new course matured and areas of turf might be needed in lieu of the deeper natural areas. Pace of play was carefully weighed, with areas golfers would frequent being purposefully zoned with playable (and findable) roughs.

The Takeaways

Olivas Links has returned to popularity and excellent conditions, and the targeted water reduction has been achieved year after year. Designing less turf area also requires careful selection of playable turf varieties that are drought-tolerant. Naturalized areas also benefit from planning for use of playable turf in roughs and choosing other adaptable ground cover and drought-tolerant native plants. It is possible to design a course to use less water and to retain — or even improve — its pace of play.