Colorado State University Study Explores Golf Industry Water Conservation Measures, Economic Impact

Results of a comprehensive Colorado State University study show that the state’s golf industry is increasingly adopting water conservation strategies and enhancing wildlife habitat and the environment.

The study, conducted by the university’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, consisted of a broad survey sent to all golf courses in the state, with expenses funded by state golf organizations, to study the industry in Colorado including the environmental impacts of the industry’s use of water, land and natural resources.

"This study shows that the golf industry has progressively endorsed strategies that protect the state’s resources," said Steve Davies, Colorado State agricultural and resource economist.

For example, according to the survey, Colorado’s golf industry has adopted water conservation methods that are dramatically reducing the amount of water a course would have needed in the face of the state’s multi-year drought.

In 2002, Colorado’s most parched year in recent history, golf industry water use fell 226 million gallons, or 1.5 percent, compared to 2001 water use due to more efficient practices and despite the need to maintain landscapes in drought climate conditions.

When the extreme dry conditions are factored into the formula, golf course adoptions of water conservation practices carry a significant impact. Numbers show that, without the conservation steps taken by courses, water use would have increased by 25 percent in 2002 due to the dry conditions over the summer.

"Our numbers show that water consumption on Colorado courses fell by 1.5 percent in 2002, but factor in the increased demand due to the extreme weather conditions, and the numbers show that golf courses employed water conservation tactics that would have reduced water consumption by 26.5 percent in a normal precipitation year," Davies said.  

When considering the total acreage of courses in the state, an average of 10 gallons of water currently is used per square foot compared to the average bluegrass lawn, which requires 18 gallons per square foot for the same area. Even in areas where golf course grass is highly groomed and may need additional water because it is mowed shorter and has more foot traffic, water use still was well below lawns, using 15 gallons per square foot.

According to the survey, courses successfully conserved water by using wetting agents, eliminating or reducing irrigation in some areas, hand watering trees and adjusting fertilizer applications.

The study also found that golf courses provide about 12,000 acres of natural and unmaintained land as habitat to wildlife. In 2002, Colorado’s golf courses comprised 35,600 acres of the state.

A copy of this study is available online at

Colorado State’s study of golf’s use of water in Colorado

  • Colorado’s golf courses use between 10-15 gallons per square foot of water per year to maintain courses, using up to 15 gallons on highly maintained areas. Bluegrass lawns use about 18 gallons of water per square foot per year.
  • Lawns in the United States use 21,600 gallons of water per year per lawn, or about 652,000 gallons of water per year per acre of lawn. In the United States, golf courses use about 684,000 gallons of water per acre per year. Colorado’s courses were lower, using 652,446 gallons of water per acre per year in 2002, the height of the state’s drought.
  • Colorado golf courses reduced water use by 1.5 percent in 2002, one of the driest years on recent record. During a normal precipitation year, that reduction would have grown to 25 percent.
  • Courses conserved water in 2002 through a variety of strategies: 85 percent used wetting agents, 76 percent eliminated irrigation in some areas, 74 reduced irrigation, 70 percent hand watered trees and 71 percent adjusted their fertilizer use. About 85 percent of all courses in the state employed at least one water conservation technique in 2002.
  • Colorado courses increased their use of reclaimed water from 2000 to 2002 by 10 percent.
  • The average size of a golf course in the United States is about 150 acres, including 80 acres of irrigated grass.

Colorado State’s study of golf’s environmental aspects

  • In Colorado, 15 percent of all golf courses are registered as members of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. This program provides guidelines for golf course management to protect and encourage wildlife habitat and reduce potential environmental concerns.
  • About 12,000 acres of Colorado’s golf courses, including unmaintained areas and natural areas, can be considered habitat for birds and small mammals. In the state, 911 acres are maintained specifically as wildlife habitat.