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California's golf courses doomed by drought?

As summer begins in a state ravaged by drought, some consider golf courses in California a drain on scarce water supplies
California golf courses struggle with historic drought 03:20

As California grapples with a four-year drought and strict water restrictions, golf course managers are facing an uphill battle to keep the greens green, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

The Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs, is home to 124 golf courses; one of the densest concentrations in the country. There, fairways of green have given way to a harsh and barren desert.

California's air pollution worsens as drought continues 01:53

"We're doing everything we can to conserve every drop of water on our golf course and make sure that we're not wasting anything," Classic Club general manager Greg Rubino said.

His course is a a tree-lined, lake dotted, beauty in Palm Desert. But in a drought, it's the kind of place that has some people teed off.

"A lot of people could say that golf courses are just a luxury, but we employ a lot of people," Rubino said. "We're a natural wildlife habitat, and so I don't think it's just a luxury. What I think it is, it's a beautiful green space for people to come and enjoy."

There are 866 golf courses in California. An average 18-hole course uses 90 million gallons of water each year. That's enough to fill 136 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Some courses are simply shutting down due to lack of water. Others have stopped watering anything out of play. Yet two thirds of California's courses are still irrigated with drinking water.

"We should not be using our drinking water supplies in order to effectively water a lawn. We need to be finding alternative water supply sources or alternative ways of playing the game," Noah Garrison, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability Environmental Science Practicum Director, said.

Keith Einwag, who tends the course at the Classic Club, said he's using as little water as possible to keep the greens green.

The course is now irrigated mostly with recycled water, but using that water is a game of inches. A moisture meter now tells him precisely when to water the greens.

Each of the nearly 5,000 sprinkler heads on the course can be individually turned on. A computer program decides which areas of the course need water and for how many minutes, based on weather conditions and evaporation rates.

But many courses don't have so much technology, which is why, ultimately, it may be golfers such as Greg Konzen who need to adjust their expectations now that the drought is making fairways a bit rough.

"There's no way that we can expect to have perfect golf everywhere we go," Konzen said.

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