Arizona Golf Industry Rebounds

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Water-related best management practices are reducing golf-course reliance on fresh water
December 28, 2016

A University of Arizona study of the golf industry in Arizona has found that golf – with an economic impact of $3.9 billion in 2014 -- has re-established its footing as an important driver of the state’s economy following the tumult of the 2009-10 economic downturn.

Just as important, however, are the data the U of A researchers collected regarding the industry’s use of water for course irrigation, which is in a rapid state of transition from a supply that once was largely fresh water to one that increasingly includes effluent.

The five researchers from the U of A’s Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics concluded their work in December, based on 2014 data.

Podcast: A chat with Rory Van Poucke, President of the Cactus & Pine Golf Course Supervisors Association

The study is an update of a 2006 study of the economic impact of golf to the state’s economy. It is largely the product of primary data collected from Arizona golf facilities statewide through a survey.

The University of Arizona team concluded that the golf-course industry is in a more rapid transition to the use of effluent to irrigate greens and fairways than previous research had indicated.

They found that fully 34 percent of water used to irrigate Arizona golf courses statewide is treated effluent.

The most comprehensive water-use data previously had been collected by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2010, which at that time found that effluent accounted for just 28 percent of golf’s total statewide water use. That new data indicates a six percent increase industry-wide in effluent use in just six years.

Kirk Adams, Governor's Doug Ducey's Chief of Staff, explaining the importance of Arizona's golf industry at the December 13, 2016, unveiling of the University of Arizona's golf economic impact study

The Arizona Department of Water Resources also contributed water-use data to the researchers. The department’s data are limited to golf-course irrigation practices in the state’s active-management areas.

Active-management areas, or AMAs, are the areas of the state where water use is regulated by the tenets of the Arizona Groundwater Management Act of 1980.

The department’s data showed that effluent use in 2014 had increased by 27 percent since 2004, and that by 2014 effluent represented 26.3 percent of the water mix of golf courses in AMAs. The U of A researchers contend the actual use of effluent statewide is nearly nine percent higher than that AMA-only figure would indicate.

The study found that, in addition to the increasing use of effluent for irrigation, water-related “best management practices” over the last ten years appear to resulted in the following:


  • An average annual savings per-facility of 19.5 acre-feet of water, in large part due to the extensive use of irrigation audits
  • An average of 10.4 acres of turf grass removed
  • An average of 75.8 acres per facility over-seeded for winter play, down from 89.3 acres in 2009
  • Thirty-nine percent of responding golf facilities report that they have engagement in a partnership with a conservation organization


The data compiled by the U of A researchers also bolstered the conclusion that the Arizona golfing industry is bucking a national trend in terms of the sport’s popularity.


Arizona Economic Golf Industry 2016


Nationally, the golf industry has struggled to rise out of the effects of the Great Recession. As the study notes, “the national supply of golf courses has been decreasing in what is considered a market correction after significant increases in golf course construction during the 1990s.”

Arizona has seen course closures too, but those have been matched by new construction. Also, numerous courses have undergone substantial renovation, according to the study.

One of the more striking economy-related conclusions of the study is that of the 11.6 million rounds of golf played around the state in 2014, nearly a third of those rounds were played by golfers from out of state.

““Over 32 percent of those rounds were played by out-of-state and foreign visitors accounting for $1.1 billion in total sales,”, said Carmella Ruggiero, executive director of the Cactus & Pine Golf Course Supervisors Association. “The golf industry continues to be one of the primary drivers of tourism to Arizona.”