As with most crises, the drought is bringing out the best and the worst in folks, including those of us who are the stewards of golf in the West. I'm pleased to say that, so far as I have seen thus far, golf is conducting itself pretty well, with very few embarrassments having come to the surface as of yet.
According to the National Golf Foundation, whose numbers and data I've always found reliable, there are approximately 15,500 golf courses in the US; of those, approximately 900 of them reside in California. That sounds like a bunch of golf holes, and it is; when you start talking about water usage, however, the data can be staggering to the uninitiated.
In at least one previous post I began looking at the potential ramifications for golf that Governor Jerry's conservation mandate might bring, and noted that even though the golf industry has been at the leading edge of the issue for a number of years, particularly the USGA's Green Section, golf courses by their very nature are going to require a lot of water, no matter how hard they try or what they do. I also pointed out that a number of courses, both private and public, had taken steps to reduce their impact on demand for potable water, taking tens of thousands of acres of land off the irrigation grids, carefully fine-tuning and better-managing their irrigation systems, converting to the use of recycled (gray) water for irrigation purposes, and replacing thirsty turf cultivars with drought-tolerant varieties that can thrive under more extreme conditions. Most superintendents are conservationists by nature, and work hard to be good stewards of the land in their care while still providing high quality playing conditions, which is the final and most critical factor by which their job performance will be judged by the folks who decide whether or not they get to keep those jobs.
All that being said, the fact is that every one of those golf courses, all 900 of them, require a lot of water nearly each and every day. It is not unusual, particularly during spring and summer, for the average 18 hole course with, say, 80- 100 acres under irrigation, to pump 800,000 - 1,000,000 gallons a day, Some a little less, but some significantly more, depending on location, cultivars being managed, and a host of other factors. So, needless to say, they get a lot of scrutiny from neighbors and assorted activists and other interested parties, and they know and understand why.
Judging by the information we're seeing in print from reputable sources thus far it seems that the industry as a whole is trying very hard to comply with the Governor's directives. Some more than others, of course. My personal experience, playing a number of different courses here in the North State, is that of seeing a great deal of dry, dusty, browned-out areas (especially practice areas and large tracts of rough) that were green and vigorous just a year ago; tees and greens, of course, have to be maintained at all costs, but almost everything else seems to be under the microscope at this point. We'll see how things develop as the drought deepens. The upside is that we're beginning to hear rumblings from weather services that we may be seeing a stronger-than-originally-believed El Nino system building, and that a very wet winter could be in our future. Let's hope.
As of today fires are burning all across Northern California: here close to home, in Shasta, Trinity, Lake, Humboldt, and Napa counties in particular, there are more than 70,000 acres in flames at this moment, distributed among some 90 separate fires and fire complexes, give or take. The Rocky fire, in Lake County, accounts for approximately 22,000 of those acres, and as of right now is only 15% contained; the China complex, comprised of the Happy and China fires, in the Shasta County Happy Valley community and its surrounds, has been brought under control, but wreaked significant havoc on the area just to the south and west of us; in Trinity County the mountain communities of Hayfork, Hyampom. Denny, and several smaller towns were being evacuated this afternoon as the Rail and Barker fires burned around them (totaling 1700 acres give or take), and the River, Fork, and Mad River complexes burned above and below those infernos, with no sign of containment. The Wragg fire, near Lake Berryessa in Napa County, is still burning, as well, and was at 8,000 acres +- the last time we checked, but was at 90% containment at the time. More thunderstorms carrying dry lightning are expected tonight and tomorrow in the mountains, so who knows what happens next? What we do know is that resources are stretched about as thin as they can go: CalFire, BLM/Forestry Service, county and local fire departments, and local volunteer fire departments are all fully mobilized, and have been for almost two full weeks, 24/7. Governor Jerry has called out the National Guard to provide additional manpower, but their usefulness, while appreciated, will be limited due to the lack of training specific to the problem. Forest Service has lost one firefighter so far. We just need a break: some moisture (rain, in particular) is critical, as is the need for folks to use their heads when outdoors in fire-prone surroundings. Bottom line, though, is thanks to the firefighters, one and all, for what you're doing, and may the Lord watch over all of you.
To close on a happier note, I wanted to give you all a heads-up regarding Cooper Vineyards' 2012 Primitivo Tesoro, Estate Bottled, Amador County. I was touted on this wine by the proprietor of The Wine Spot, a friendly little wine bar in the old downtown area of Eureka we discovered on our last trip, and where we spent several hours tasting and just listening to locals gossip on a slow afternoon. The woman behind the bar turned out to be the daughter of the owners, and a character of the first magnitude. We spent a significant amount of time fascinated by her reminiscences of her days as a timber driver for a logging company (I swear), as well as tasting a few of her recommendations, this Primitivo among them, and I will always be grateful for that. The wine is a classic example of the varietal (which is rarely seen, even here in wine country): deeply crimson-colored. with a rich and focused bouquet of ripe blue-and blackberries, tar, and citrus peel, it literally explodes out of the glass; very rich and rounded fruit flavors almost attack the palate, with strawberries, dried blueberries, sage, ginger, and vanilla coming and going as it settles in your mouth. The finish is very long, and very pleasant, and you're not happy when the bottle is done, unless you happen to have another, which I don't. I'm not even sure this wine is available except at the winery and to select accounts; I can't find it listed on their website, but I plan to call and inquire (beg) if it is to be had. I paid $40 for the bottle I bought at Wine Spot which seems entirely reasonable now that I no longer have it, and would gladly pay that for a few more. I recommend that those of you interested in esoteric and/or exotic varietals check the Cooper website for your selves; my guess is that given their success with htis wine, there are a number of others well worth trying. I certainly intend to do so.