Collage von mehreren Bildern zum Thema Wasser auf Golfplätzen

Golf and water: Plan ahead instead of waiting

Questions are hailing. Questions that have not played a role in Germany for decades. The core issue is who will be allowed to use how much and which water in the future. In the words of the German government, it is about the national water strategy, which was adopted in March. This is new insofar as there have been no uniform regulations on the subject of water in Germany up to now.

Authorities change the specifications

For Kersten Preussler, Vice-President at GC Odenwald, this national target is reflected concretely in figures. “Our water withdrawal is now linked to the water level of the Mümling River,” he says, explaining the latest specifications that are being made in the case of GC Odenwald in Darmstadt. If the water level of the Mümling is below 0.5118 meters, water withdrawal is stopped. In 2022, the Mümling had a water level below 0.5118 meters a few times.

The case of GC Odenwald is just one example of many that can currently be found within the German golf scene. The water supply for agriculture, cities, households, industry, sports facilities is now regulated throughout Germany. Golf courses are not exempt. The changes are many and varied, but they are similar in only one respect: they come quickly, often unannounced. Be it that water permits are tied to the requirement of water collection from surface water. Be it that withdrawal quantities are linked to water levels in flowing waters. Permits for the abstraction of drinking water, such as those still in place for golf courses in the city of Munich, were stopped altogether.

Fee at the water cent increases

In Lower Saxony, the golf courses were reclassified as “other” in the water cent fee. Whereas golf courses were previously sorted rather comfortably with nurseries and agriculture, they now fall into the worst of all sections under “other.” The fee for one cubic meter of water has thus increased from 0.014 euros per cubic meter to 0.18 euros per cubic meter. With a withdrawal of 20,000 cubic meters of water per year, the difference makes 3320 euros, not an amount that puts a golf club economically before existence. In fact, however, one question in particular arises in this environment: What happens if the price of water possibly rises to 0.5 euros? 20,000 cubic meters would then cost 10,000 euros. However, quite a few golf courses in Germany require considerably more than just 20,000 cubic meters per year.

The introduction of the so-called water cent has now even become an issue in Bavaria, where, according to politicians, water has been available in abundance and in top quality until now. Since 2003, however, according to documentation from the State Office for the Environment, groundwater recharge has tipped into the negative. The annual deficit is about one-sixth.

Bavaria’s Minister President Markus Söder has now also announced the introduction of a water cent for Bavaria from 2024. “The ‘water cent’ shows how precious our water is,” Söder said during budget deliberations in March. “It can’t be that this water, some of which is 10,000 years old, can just be used by anyone for free – it’s too precious and too valuable for that.” Who will pay, and how much, is unclear at this time. There could be fees for users of sports facilities, which include soccer and golf clubs, for example.

Question of future viability

The message that rapid development of a water strategy for golf courses is important could also be heard fromThomas Graner, vice president of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in April at the annual general meeting of The Leading Golf Clubs of Germany association. “The water issue has arrived delicately. We have had the first drought experiences,” Graner explained. However, the issue is very likely to become more explosive. The future viability of golf courses, he believes, also depends heavily on how forward-thinking the individual club is with regard to its water supply.

Golf clubs respond with construction measures

In fact, numerous German golf clubs are now very active with regard to this topic. “A good half of all inquiries right now involving construction work on a golf course also involve optimizing the water supply,” explains Thomas Himmel of Himmel Golf Design. “GC Hetzenhof’s storage pond, with a capacity of 40,000 cubic meters, is just one example of how hard some facilities are working toward water self-sufficiency.”

In doing so, the Munich-based golf course designer points out some key aspects of replanning the water supply. “With storage ponds, it’s not just the capacity that matters, but also the evaporation area, permitability, optimal location in the terrain and, in the end, how the excavation is handled and how it’s integrated into the game’s strategy.” Water management, Himmel says, is a bit of a puzzle in a way: “This is about coming up with the right sprinkler system, drainage and collection systems, turf varieties and cutting schedules to arrive at an overall concept in the end.”

Regional differences

This also applies with regard to the development of possible heavy rainfall events. At the moment, in fact, it is not yet possible to determine with any certainty from a scientific point of view exactly what precipitation in Germany will look like in the future. “How this will develop in Germany, that’s not quite so clear yet,” one of the country’s leading water experts, Prof. Dr. Mariele Evers, an ecohydrologist at the University of Bonn, recently told Der Spiegel’s climate podcast. “Above all, we have to see that we have regional differences. In some areas we will see more precipitation, but in other areas – especially in the northeast of Germany – we will have quite significant decreases. Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Berlin are getting drier. That means a lot less precipitation and therefore a risk of droughts.”

Service water becomes an alternative

In the Berlin region, this message was received last summer at the latest. Here, the golf courses presented themselves largely brown and parched. At the Märkischer Golf Club Potsdam, Managing Director Martin Westphal is now running a pilot project to supply the greens with recycled water. The Golf – und Country Club Seddiner See plans to completely disconnect from the previous water supply through the Seddiner See. One thing has long been recognized in both clubs: As pleasing as the spring of 2023 may have been in terms of rainfall, in the long term this will probably be the exception rather than the rule, at least in this region.