In Drought-Ridden California, the Classic Lawn Loses Ground, no more lawns

 Just a year ago, the Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club — which bills itself as having an “exquisitely manicured, visually breathtaking” golf course — featured the same traditional rolling hills of grass found at golf clubs around the country.

But then came the $4 million renovation. With shovels and bulldozers, out went 54 acres of turf, nearly half the lawn on the course. Walkways that were once grass were replaced with shredded redwood bark, known here as “gorilla hair” for its coarse appearance and the way it feels underfoot. Large stretches of fairway are now covered in decomposed granite, which Kevin Hwang, the general manager of the club, calls a “fancy term for dirt.”

“It’s still not as pretty as I thought it would be,” Mr. Hwang confessed as he drove his cart through the course, a semipublic one that lets nonmembers play. With less grass on which to land a ball, the course has become somewhat more challenging, too.

Still, the club did not have to spend a penny: The local water district paid for the entire thing. It used a fund — now empty — from the larger Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that offered rebates to homeowners and others to rip out water-guzzling grass and replace it with drought-friendly alternatives.

The cash-for-grass program has existed for years in Southern California, but it reached a pinnacle this year, as the drought intensified and local water districts increased the size of the rebates, sometimes to as much as $4 a square foot. The Metropolitan Water District, which provides water to most of urban Southern California, has spent more than $450 million on rebates in the last two years — including the $4 million for Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club.

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