El Nino rains bring hope and misery to southern California courses

By Bryce Miller
Published on
El Nino rains bring hope and misery to southern California courses

SAN DIEGO – The most conflicted people in San Diego County this week almost assuredly are those who maintain, operate and bean count at golf courses.
One moment, they're wringing hands over drought conditions and water-use regulations as their money-producing grass withers and browns. The next, it's raining like the jungles of Equatorial Guinea.
A fickle place in early 2016, this San Diego. A fickle visitor, this El Nino.
No one could blame the small army of professionals tasked with nurturing fairways and Glamour Shot-gussying-up tee boxes for exhibiting more personalities than Sybil.
"The rain is good for the golf course, good for the grass – it's just not good for business right now," said Kevin Kienast, superintendent for 12 years at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad. "But from an agronomic standpoint, superintendents are jumping for joy."
That's the dual and dueling nature of the skies that opened up over our California corner of the golfing world in recent days.
The deluge satisfied parched water tables, flushing away salt and other nasty what-not anchored in the soil. It also washed away round after round after round as golfers scrambled for cover.
The short-term impact? Not good. The long-term impact? Potentially very, very good.
Go ahead and count Mark Marney among the links-monitoring conflicted. The golf operations director for the city of San Diego keeps tabs on Torrey Pines, Balboa Park and Mission Bay.
As rain battered courses this week, Marney estimated the 130 to 140 rounds per day on the Torrey Pines North Course had trickled to 30 or less. The three city courses face losses of 1,000 rounds or more this week, he said.
Hyperventilating? Happy? Probably a smidge of both.
"We had about 3 1/2 inches this week," Marney said. "For us, that's about a third of a year. There have been times we've had 4 inches for the entire year.
"Torrey is an interesting little micro-climate. Storms tend to go around this area. San Diego can have 7 or 8 inches in a year and we get 3 or 4. So to have 3 1/2 this week is pretty significant.
"Obviously, we're not irrigating – so there's some water cost savings there. And it's great for soil. But you also lose play, so there's that revenue side of it."
Torrey Pines must peak at the rush of wild weather through a different set of glasses. The iconic course is hitting the stretch run of preparations for the PGA Tour's $6.5 million Farmers Insurance Open.
Peter Ripa, tournament director for the event that tees off Jan. 28, keeps an eye on the course and weather radars.
The Farmers offers invaluable exposure and long-term branding for the course. CBS and the Golf Channel are scheduled to carry 19 hours of coverage, reaching 229 countries and 30 million viewers in the U.S. alone.
"You want to show nothing but sunshine (on TV)," Ripa said. "This weather, though, is great for healthy grass that's dense and pretty to see on TV. They always overseed (Torrey) in the winter, so it's pretty simple. You've got a decent amount of water, so if you mix in a little sunlight, the overseeding really takes well.
"The amount of rain we've had, if it continued at that pace, you don't experience that much here. Just enough is great. If it's just this week, that'll be fine."
Ripa added that soaking runs like the ones we just experience can save "six figures in a month for water costs" at the biggest courses.
Kienast, of Aviara, guessed that courses like his could lose more than 100 rounds per day during the worst days. He added that irrigation costs, however, could fall as much as $20,000.
Golf experts agree, though, that a hefty run of rain is preferable to weeks of slow, steady drizzle that impacts the number of rounds played for longer – with less moisturizing benefit.
For every con, there's a pro lurking.
"When you get a week like this, it certainly scares a lot of golfers," he said. "It might scare them a week out, because they don't know what's going to happen and it's hard to plan. And there's a lot of cleanup and labor after storms like this.
"But rain like this can (positively) impact the quality of play all summer. It's been so long since we've had a good, flushing rain to get rid of all that salt and sodium that's built up in the soil over the years.
"I'd rather have a good, wet winter, because it makes the whole year so much better."
Kienast understands the dilemma facing Farmers organizers at Torrey Pines. His course hosts the LPGA's Kia Classic at the end of March.
"It sets back preparation for events," he said. "You lose a week on the golf course."
Ripa captured the golf community motto as last weekend began to dry.
"Might as well get it out of the way now," he said.
This article was written by Bryce Miller from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.