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Tiger Woods golf course announcement sparks water-use questions

Summit Sotheby's Realty
[FILE - July 2022] Tiger Woods and his design firm recently announced an 18-hole golf course between downtown Heber City (upper left) and the Jordanelle Reservoir. Developers say the plan is to eventually build another 18-hole course nearby.

After Tiger Woods’ design firm announced a golf course in the Wasatch Back, some voiced concerns about the water the greens will require. A representative of the project says developers are investing in ways to conserve.

While golfers may have rejoiced at news of a Tiger Woods-endorsed golf course coming to Wasatch County, many asked if using lots of water to keep its fairways green is an appropriate use after years of drought.

A rendering shows the design of the future Tiger Woods golf course in Heber City.
Summit Sotheby's Realty
TGR Design
A rendering shows the design of the future Tiger Woods golf course in Heber City.

A press release from Marcella Club, which is overseeing the project, said the 18-hole course by TGR Design will open for the 2025 season. It also said the course will be 8,000 yards long on Heber City land between the Jordanelle Reservoir and U.S. Highway 40. It would be one of the longest and highest-elevated courses in Utah.

Marcella Club Managing Director Beth Armstrong said the water to sustain the course will come from the Jordanelle. She said minimizing how much water it uses will be a priority.

“We are insisting on using the latest in water conservation technologies with our irrigation, etcetera,” Armstrong said.

She said that includes using multi-million-dollar storage tanks, rather than ponds, to decrease evaporation. She also said the course will recycle treated wastewater.

“I guess the best-case scenario may be to do nothing on the land, but as we know, that's not going to be an option,” Armstrong said. “It's [otherwise] going to have residences put there, which will use much more water than a golf course would. Especially with the new technologies that are constantly coming out and keeping as much natural vegetation [as possible] — and really, the only green part is going to be the fairways and the greens themselves — this will be one of the better-case scenarios for this property.”

A design for the course shows 18 green parcels where the different holes will be built amid swaths of land not planned for irrigation.

According to the release, Marcella Club is a collaboration between three developers: Reef Capital Partners, Raintree Investment Corporation and Cross Lake Partners.

[FULL INTERVIEW]: Marcella Club's Beth Armstrong on new Tiger Woods golf course

Those companies didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about how much water the new course could require. According to Armstrong, information such as how much water the project owns rights to use won't be available until after more detailed design phases take place.

Water conservationists have recently increased scrutiny of golf courses and other major water users. State lawmakers said efforts to support the Great Salt Lake are a priority in the current legislative session after it reached record-low levels last year.

The Utah Rivers Council has testified at the statehouse this session about ways to replenish the Great Salt Lake and its feeders. Executive Director Zach Frankel questioned the claim that the Tiger Woods golf course will use less water than a different type of development might.

He said golf courses are among the biggest water-users per acre in Utah. In municipal areas, he said outdoor watering, such as on golf courses, accounts for three times the amount of water used inside buildings.

“The amount of water we use in our homes is only a small fraction of our total municipal water use, because we're using so much water outside on our landscapes,” Frankel said. “There's no question that golf courses use vast quantities of water, compared to indoor water use of homes or multi-family developments.”

He estimated that while an average person uses up to 60 gallons of water a day, or 22,000 a year, an acre of grass at high elevation requires up to 600,000 gallons in a year to stay healthy.

[FILE - July 2022] The future site of a Tiger Woods golf course sits above the Jordanelle Reservoir on land recently annexed into Heber City limits.
Summit Sotheby's Realty
[FILE - July 2022] The future site of a Tiger Woods golf course sits above the Jordanelle Reservoir on land recently annexed into Heber City limits.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that during drought-stricken 2021, Salt Lake County used 663 million gallons of water to irrigate its six public courses. The report cited information released in a public records request.

Data on the water golf courses use is hard to come by, as many courses have private owners who aren’t required to publicize their water use.

In late January, a state lawmaker tried to address that with a bill that would have required golf courses to release how much water they use in a year. Representative Doug Welton, a Republican who represents Utah County, sponsored that bill, entitled H.B. 188. It failed to make it to the floor for approval in its original form.

Instead, the House Natural Resources Committee changed the bill to specifically exempt public and private golf course operators from having to release water data requested in public records requests.

“At a time when the public is clamoring for more transparency and information about how we use water in Utah,” Frankel said, “the Utah Legislature is considering a new bill to put a gag order on golf course water use and prevent the public from knowing who's using how much water. Any claim that water is not important or that a particular use is not using much water, it needs to be supported by good science and good data.”

The proposal to exempt golf courses from public information requests is tied to a Utah State University study scheduled to end by July 2026. That’s when the exemption for golf courses to report water data would expire.

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