A few weeks ago this item appeared on the Associated Press sports wire: "The drought that has afflicted northern California has placed in jeopardy the Pebble Beach Golf Links, site of the PGA national championship in August.
" 'We're hoping to be able to get enough water to water the greens and tees,' one highly placed PGA source said. 'There's no chance of watering the fairways. If we can get water for the greens, we'll be O.K. If not....' He didn't finish the sentence."
In mid-March there was rainfall in northern California, the first of any significance since early December and enough to dampen divots on parched fairways from Morro Bay to the Oregon border. Snow fell in the Sierra and water ran in the gutters of San Francisco. The "rainy" season was almost over, though, and the precipitation only temporarily alleviated the pressure on harassed golf-course superintendents. When a congressional subcommittee investigating drought conditions asked a National Weather Service hydrologist what it would take to bring California's water supply to normal levels this year, the hydrologist replied. "Extreme flooding over most of the state."
Golf fans may remember that the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, one of the first tournaments on the PGA tour each season—an event that is supposed to be storm tossed, wind lashed and precipitated upon—has been played under blue skies the last two years. Blue skies are fine for Southern California, where water planning is based on a semipermanent state of drought, but the north depends on rainfall and natural runoff from the rivers to fill its reservoirs and cannot survive too many blue skies in January.
Last year was bad enough, with runoff 40% of normal, but 1977 is turning into a disaster. In the same manner that California's earthquakes are measured against the quake of 1906, until now its droughts have been compared to that of 1924, when runoff was 28% of normal. This year, it has been predicted, runoff will be 18% to 25% of normal.
"We've just never seen two years this dry back to back before," says Lawrence W. Mullnix, head of the state water project.
"If we have another year like this one next year, we'll virtually lose control of our system," says David Schuster of the federal Central Valley Project. "We'd come right down to dead storage on our reservoirs."
In a few places that point has already been reached. One is Marin County, on the north side of San Francisco Bay, where residents have been on mandatory water rationing since Feb. 1. Another is the Monterey Peninsula, the site of some of the finest golf courses in the world. Since Feb. 19, individuals in the area served by the Cal Am Water Co. of Monterey have been rationed to 50 gallons a day, about one-eighth of their normal usage. The seven golf courses in this water-service area—Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill, the Monterey Peninsula Country Club's shore and dune courses, Old Del Monte and Pacific Grove Municipal—have been restricted to 50% of the amount they used in the corresponding month last year.
They are lucky to have that much. At first, it was proposed to the state Public Utilities Commission that in view of the emergency, golf courses be cut to 20% of their usage. Quick reaction by the mayors of the affected towns and representatives of the tourist industry persuaded the commission and the citizenry that 20% was not enough to keep a course going and that, at least for the time being, the loss of the golf courses would be an economic disaster equal to that caused by the drought. Golf produces revenue second only to tourism in the area, and most of it stays right on the Peninsula.
Half rations will be enough to keep putting greens, collars and approaches—the prime real estate on a golf course—in good shape. With proper management, there will be enough for the tees, too, and, in some cases, the landing areas in the fairways. But the rough and the dispensable parts of the fairways, such as the first 150 yards or so off the tees, will have to be left to nature.