December 18, 2019

Adapting to Survive

Like much of Southern California, for years San Luis Obispo was plagued by abnormally dry weather and drought conditions. In fact, February of this year marked the first time since 2011 that the looming threat of drought was lifted.

Golf courses in the water-starved region have had to be resourceful when it comes to water usage and operations. The rising cost of water (related to simple supply and demand) has played a key role in many course closures within the last decade.

At one point, the state of California’s water agencies began offering substantial rebates to golf courses that replaced turfed areas with drought-tolerant native vegetation or other landscaping that was not water-dependent – offering as much a $3 for every square-foot of turf removed. However, to combat the rising cost of water and reduce operational overhead the 18-hole Dairy Creek Golf Course in San Luis Obispo opted for another strategy.

The county-operated course elected to downsize to a nine-hole facility and replace a portion of the saved acreage with an enhanced practice area. Not only does the move prefigure a reduction in water usage, but also electricity and fertilizer. Furthermore, they’ve been able to cut their golf car fleet in half and find further savings.

In addition to the operational benefits of converting nine holes into a new and improved practice range, the decision follows a nationwide trend of creating attractive and fun opportunities for golfers with limited time (or those new to the game) to engage with golf in a social and welcoming atmosphere. Dairy Creek is in the process of installing Toptracer Range – the technology based platform that allows facility operators to transform a standard range into a digital entertainment space similar to the popular Topgolf venues.

Other plans include a mini golf course, go-kart racing, camping cabins and zip lines as well as educational incentives in science and technology. The county targets the summer of 2019 for completion of the project.

Furthermore, the facility entered an agreement with Cal Poly University and salvaged three greens from the closed nine and a surrounding fairway for in order to provide an outstanding short game facility for the men’s and women’s golf teams.

“We’re looking to close to $800,000 to get the first phases done: the mini golf, the go-karts and the Topgolf Range,” says Josh Heptig, Golf Superintendent for San Luis Obispo County Parks. “A lot of those funds are coming from sources that are already in our parks system and from some of the operational savings we’ll see from downsizing.

“We’re also looking at adding a BMX pump track for younger kids. We’re looking at adding a couple skills courses, one for advanced BMX riders as well as intermediate BMX riders,” Heptig says. “We just want it to be a really fun place.”

Rudy Duran, who’s recognized for coaching Tiger Woods from the ages of 4-10, also utilizes Dairy Creek as one of his teaching facilities. He believes that golf properties like the one envisioned by Dairy Creek can play a major role in bringing golf to a broader audience of young people into the future. “Every year, golf becomes more diverse,” says Duran. “Kids today have a desire to play more than young adults who didn’t experience a comprehensive program. We have to make sure we have the facilities and people in place to foster an appreciation and passion for the game.”