Brown Is The New Green At U.S. Open: Water Is ‘Biggest Obstacle’ Facing Golf, Says USGA

Ian Poulter practices on fifth hole of U.S. Open in Pinehurst, NCC (Photo: AP)
Ian Poulter practices on fifth hole of U.S. Open in Pinehurst, NCC (Photo: AP)

If you tune into the U.S. Open golf championship this Father’s Day weekend, you may think you’re watching the Dubai Desert Classic or the infamous “Brown British Open.”

But the U.S. Golf Association wants you to know that what you’re really seeing at Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina is the future of golf. The Washington Post reports that USGA executive director Mike Davis said this week:

“We happen to think that, long term, water is going to be the biggest obstacle in the game of golf…. It’s not going to be a question of cost. It’s a question of: Will you be able to get it?

Brown is the new green. Or, rather, browns are the new greens.

Course architects, led by two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw, “removed 650 sprinkler heads, and they now have a more streamlined irrigation system that runs down the center of the fairways.” And 35 acres of rough are completely gone. What’s left on the sides of the fairways “is a combination of sand … and more than 200,000 wiregrass plants and other native grasses and weeds, giving it a look that’s natural and gnarly.”


The result of these changes: “Pinehurst No. 2 has gone from using 55 million gallons of water annually to 15 million, Davis said.”

The WashPost asks “Why could this be, in certain regions of the country, the wave of the future? “

But of course neither the Washington Post — nor any of the other media outlets covering the brown U.S. Open — ever explains that it’s climate change that makes this inevitable.

Scientists have told us that climate change is already making droughts and floods worse in the Southeast. And it’s drying out the Southwest — while studies project a third of the planet faces even worse.

The USGA knows climate change is going to require golf to change. They had a big conference in November 2012 on the subject resulting in the 70-page report, “Golf’s Use of Water: Solutions for a More Sustainable Game.” The welcoming remarks by USGA President Glen Nager explained that among the “increasingly complex and broad challenges” facing golf were “environmental and climate pressures.”


At least the U.S. Open wasn’t playing in California, where prestigious golf courses have been shutting down in the face of the epic warming-worsened drought. In April, Golf Digest asked “California: How to reconcile a drought with 124 desert golf courses?”:

The part of the Coachella Valley often referred to as the Palm Springs area, east of Los Angeles, is carpeted in green, 124 irrigated golf courses, many with lakes, in an otherwise parched landscape….

In the Coachella Valley, courses use 24 percent of the area water consumption.

Seriously. The latest Drought Monitor suggests the folly of that:

Though hardly among the more serious of its myriad impacts, climate change will end golf — amateur and professional — as we have come to know it in large parts of this country.