IN DEPTH: Arizona golf courses use way more water than they’re supposed to. Nothing is stopping them

The Republic spent two months investigating water consumption by Arizona’s golf courses./Deposit photo

By Balint Fabok | Arizona Republic

The Scottsdale National Golf Club — an exclusive resort in the Sonoran Desert where 145 members pay $300,000 to join and $60,000 in annual fees — brags about wide open fairways, stunning vistas and “unexpected amenities.”

One thing the club doesn’t like to talk about is how much water it uses to keep its 45 holes of golf emerald green.

According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Scottsdale National has expended more than twice as much water as allotted by the state since 2016, with every drop coming from the overextended Colorado River.

When asked for an explanation, a representative from the club declined to comment.

“At this time, Scottsdale National is not interested in participating in your story,” the representative said. 

With global warming and a historical megadrought combining to constrain Arizona’s water supply and triggering shortage declarations, golf courses in Arizona have long claimed that they’re part of the solution — often lauding themselves as national leaders in water conservation.

The Arizona Republic found otherwise.

Not only have Arizona golf courses collectively failed to reduce water consumption over the past 20 years, but a large number have repeatedly exceeded state assigned allotments and there have been no serious consequences for them in doing so.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources, still chronically understaffed and underfunded since the 2008 recession, tries to work with golf courses to save water rather than levying fines and fees, but their approach has failed to rein in usage. And thus far, its efforts to cut water allotments by 3.1% have been met with stiff golf industry resistance. 

The Republic spent two months investigating water consumption by Arizona’s golf courses. The research was based primarily on data provided by the Department of Water Resources that measured golf course water usage from 2002 through 2020. The Republic also questioned experts about the data and reviewed dozens of additional water reports to obtain information missing from the department’s datasets. 

From this, The Republic found:

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