Water Hazard: Golf ‘Communities’ of California


Water Hazard is an ongoing architectural research project by moss.  We are studying water related issues to become better stewards of this most precious resource.  Below is the latest dispatch. (This report was originally published by moss in March of 2005)

The United States is home to more than 23,000 golf courses, by far the most in the world. A large number of courses are located in the west and southwest regions of the country; regions that are in severe drought [1].  In addition, most golf courses are only available to a select few that can afford green fees and access the course.  This would not pose such a problem if golf courses did not consume a surfeit of natural resources that are important to the survival of the public.

What Golf Courses “Need” vs What People Need

Courses consume an enormous amount of land (an 18 hole golf course of 6200 yards or more would require 110 to 180 acres of land [2]), and water for decorative features and irrigation.  California alone boasts 912 golf courses, second only to Florida which is home to over 1,100 courses [3].  Therefore, California, looking right in the face of severe drought, uses over 164,000 acres of mainly urbanized and irrigated land for golf courses; that equates to 256 square miles, or roughly the size Memphis, Tennessee.

In order to make the game playable all the land noted above would have to be surfaced with some sort of turf, usually Bermuda (a species not native to Southern California).  Most nonnative plant material must be irrigated in order to survive, which requires over 250,000 gallons of water per day per course [5].  Extrapolating out shows a golf course water usage of 228 million gallons of water per day for all of California courses. Compare this with the 350 billion gallons of potable water used every day by the United States [4], and it easy to see how turf is America’s number 1 irrigated crop.

All this consumption at the links for a game played by only 7% of the United States population (that according to the National Golf Foundation).  It should be noted that some golf courses are taking steps to implement reclaimed water for irrigating purposes, but a long term solution is far from a reality.

Another phenomenon of the game of golf is the so called “communities” that residential developers build around the course.  As if the game is not secluded enough, it is surrounded by a series of fortress-like, 5,000 square foot “McMansions”, which are then protected by the front gate security guard.  If a golf course is surrounded by a 500 unit single family development, each with 2.5 residents, the statistics would indicate that 87 of the 1250 residents would actually use the course to play golf.

What can we do about this Water Hazard?

So what do to with this wasteful hog plopped in the middle of housing developments?  The following images graphically and qualitatively illustrate possible remedies for the consumption rut we are in.

All of the solutions share one common thread, and that is the community farm. Urbanized areas, aside from the occasional farmer’s market, usually lack any kind of agricultural presence.  But what if we returned some element of farming to the city, creating an urban farmer? This would be a group activity that people of all ages, accessibility, and athletic ability could participate in, thus increasing the chances of neighborly interaction and intensifying the likelihood of real community development.

A proposal currently exists in the City of Chicago, developed by City Farm, to use under appreciated land to house a “Mobile City Farmstead”, which could be readily taken down and relocated as needed [6]. In a similar fashion the proposals shown in the following suggest more of a permanent agricultural area that would take the place of the golf course hog.  This technique could be applied almost anywhere, assuming that native crops are planted, thus reducing the need for irrigation.  Planting and cultivating will also help the soil regain the nutrients it once possessed.  But the main focus is to give the residents of a particular area a common cause and a reason for interaction, so that a group of randomly placed houses around a golf course may naturally develop into a community.

Making real Golf Course Communities


Farmer’s markets are one of the most popular urban events today.  This could provide a valuable source of income for any community and alleviate the burden of some, if not all, of the monthly homeowner’s assessments.  Also replacement of all golf course parking areas and cart paths will help curb runoff into the sewer system and reduce urban heat island effect.


Along with the addition of native vegetation and crops photovoltaic collectors have been added to several of the structures.  Wind generated power can also be employed, especially in the windier, mountainous areas of the region.

examples of native vegetation; cats-claw acacia, california copperleaf, san diego thornmint, desert agave, otay manzanita, indian milkweed, white mangrove, coyote brush, desertsenna, evening primrose.


Native plants of Southern California also have the potential to produce fruits, vegetables, and medicinal herbs. Together with wind and solar power this former golf community can be energy independent.

examples of native crops; acorn, bay laurel fruits, indian potatoes, soap plant, deer grass

1 World Water Assessment Programme; London
2 Time saver standards
3 National Golf Foundation
4 United States Green Building Council
5 University study, July 2003; University of California – Fresno
6 Ten x Ten magazine, winter 2004; Chicago