The full study on Arizona's golf industry is available here.
A new study by University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and the UA's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics says the Arizona golf industry contributed $3.9 billion in sales to the state's economy in 2014 while using only 1.9 percent of the state's freshwater.
"I expected the numbers. But this is something we talk about on a regular basis — the impact of golf on the economy," said Lonnie Lister, general manager of Tucson's Skyline Country Club and vice president of the Club Managers Association of America, Greater Southwest Chapter.
"I think the survey also validates that people in the golf industry are good stewards of water," Lister said.
Lister was one of hundreds of golf industry employees from courses around the state who participated in a survey as part of the study, done by Dari Duval, Ashley Kerna and George Frisvold — members of Cooperative Extension's economic impact analysis team, along with Extension turfgrass specialist Kai Umeda.
The team worked with the Cactus & Pine Golf Course Superintendents Association to get the survey out to those working in the industry — especially club managers, course superintendents and club professionals.
Cooperative Extension, part of the UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, agreed with those in the golf industry, the governor's office and several state water agencies that there was a need for updated figures. Previously, the most recent analysis of the golf industry had been done for 2004.
"Part of the idea of the survey was to understand the industry better, and also for the industry to portray what they do for the state economy, how many jobs they support, how much revenue they generate, how they're using water and how they're adopting different conservation practices," Frisvold said.
The board president of Cactus & Pine said his eyes were opened by the results.
"As far as economic contribution, $3.9 billion (is the) total direct and indirect from the industry," said Rory Van Poucke, who is also the general manager of Apache Sun Golf Club in Queen Creek, Arizona. "That’s what really sticks out to me. That's with a 'B,' not an 'M.' And the revenue directly, just from golf courses alone, is $1.1 billion."
Other numbers from the study also stood out to him.
"Golf facilities employ about 18,700 full and part time," Van Poucke said. "And the other number that sticks out is estimated number of rounds played was 11.6 million in the entire state. Other numbers look at all facets of golf — hotels, restaurants — (so) the total number of jobs is about 43,000.
"People just don't realize what a huge impact golf has on the state of Arizona and what an integral part golf is to our economy."
Umeda, the turfgrass agent, said courses have become a sixth "C" for the state, joining the traditional copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate.
"That's something people don’t recognize: The turf industry and growing grass is a big attractant for visitors that come to the state to play golf, recreate or go to watch golf and other sports," he said.
Umeda, David Kopec and Paul Brown have looked at turfgrass and irrigation practices for years, sharing research with those in the golf industry such as Van Poucke.
"We really dug deep with the University of Arizona," Van Poucke said. "We worked with Kai and David Kopec, George Frisvold and Paul Brown. They're doing research in new grass that is more drought tolerant, that can take higher salt in water. We need that research. It's a great partnership to get the word out about golf in the state of Arizona. We're cutting edge with the University. We get education through Extension about new technology and research."
Umeda said the industry doesn't get enough credit for being environmentally conscious.
"The industry uses so little water, but it's perceived as wasting water," he said. "They are generating an economic return for the state, which it turns out is a $3.9 billion business. People may not understand what the golf course superintendents do — when they are trying to conserve water and use it judiciously."
Said Frisvold: "Golf courses used 1.9 percent of freshwater — that's surface water and groundwater. That does not include effluent use. Compared to past years, effluent use increased, but that varies county to county. It's less where there is not a lot of irrigated agriculture. For example, golf freshwater use in Santa Cruz County is higher than average, even though it's only around 9 percent of the county total. Much of Santa Cruz's effluent is used to maintain instream flows and riparian habitat in the Santa Cruz River. Water use everywhere also changes year-to-year, depending on temperature and rainfall. This study is a snapshot of where the industry is at a certain point in time."
The picture is a positive one, according to Lister.
"This study will help the average person understand," he said. "The golf industry is an important industry not only to Arizona but on a national level. We can't just look at it as just a place that's consuming our resources and not giving anything back to the community. This study shows golf is definitely providing jobs, and giving dollars to benefit the economy."