It’s no secret. Golf courses are made from grass, and grass needs water to grow. From the early days of William Mulholland, the City of Los Angeles has been on the hunt for water, and it’s an especially scarce resource nowadays. There’s not enough artisanal bottled water to go around, and the City has long outgrown its natural freshwater sources. It is a desert afterall.
Surprising fact: LA City golf course irrigation systems have been running off of the potable water grid for decades. This is an issue, not only because there’s a shortage of drinkable water, but it also has recently become a financial burden. Potable water over the last 5-year pricing cycle has increased 400%, and at the same time, the price of reclaimed water has gone down. Getting the city's municipal golf courses off potable water in favor of recycled water is not just a matter of environmental correctness and prudent water management, it's a matter of financial survival for the system. Up until the last 5-year pricing cycle, LADWP provided a separate rate for open public space/parkland/public schools -- a rate significantly below the rates charged to domestic and business customers, but this has recently changed. The pricing shift now presents a significant challenge for the city’s management of the robust system of 12 golf facilities.
Several years ago, LA City decided to move all municipal golf courses to recycled water irrigation. As of 2018, eight courses have transitioned to using exclusively reclaimed water, and Roosevelt Golf Course is currently undergoing the transition. Craig Kessler, Director of Governmental Affairs for the Southern California Golf Association who is closely involved in this process, helped me understand the larger context of the City’s priority. It’s much bigger than just this course. He shared that the State of California’s priority is to get the 900 golf courses in the State off the potable system, and that LA City has been a great example of executing that plan.
Sitting across the street from the Greek Theater and opened in June of 1964, it is named for President Franklin Roosevelt, originally designed by David Kent and the City’s landscape architect. This course is personal for me. I cut my teeth as a beginner golfer on the hilly course in Griffith Park. It was where I filmed my first piece of golfing content, heading out with a local named Mega (Mike) to talk about our mutual love of the game, how it changed both our lives, and how he dreamt about one day playing together with his son.
I visited Roosevelt on a rainy day to take a look at the process, see the course undergoing a transition, and hear more about the ambitious plans at the quaint 9 holer. It felt a bit like watching open heart surgery with the bones of the course dug up and exposed as a team of hard working guys laid new irrigation pipes that they expect to be around for the next 100 years. I couldn’t help but think about the idea of change and evolution, both for the course but also my life. Walking this course I have loved for many years, now as a journalist, uncovering a story about its past and its future, I thought about how much we both have changed in the 7 years since I took up this game.
Seeing the course improvements that are currently underway, spearheaded by architect Forrest Richardson, and seeing first hand the stewardship of this course by the SCGA and the city reminded me just how lucky Los Angeles is to have such a great municipal golf system. And the work at Roosevelt is a major step in helping to revive it, bringing it into the next 55 years.