Thursday, February 9, 2012

The USGA on Winter Play

As winter continues, so does the unseasonably warm temperatures and opportunities to hit the golf course.  Are there risks associated with increased play during the winter months?  That's a tough question to answer and it can only be determined by local conditions.  The USGA and Darin S. Bevard explain some of those factors below.

Bonus Golf: Take Note of the Risks

By Darin S. Bevard, senior agronomist, Mid-Atlantic Region
January 31, 2012

While some light snow has fallen at times and reminded us that it is winter, milder than normal temperatures have been the rule. Nicer weather has allowed for more golf than usual to be played during the winter months, but there may be consequences in the spring.

For the past several weeks there have been many opportunities for golfers to get out and enjoy the weather, and their favorite golf course. With the extreme wet conditions of late summer/early fall, this bonus golf has been great for the golfers, and has helped the bottom lines of many golf courses. The mild weather has also rekindled the debate over winter play and the potential agronomic downside of excess traffic, especially on greens.

In the last couple of years, frequent snowfall and cold temperatures have rendered the winter play conversation a moot point. This winter we have been blessed with plenty of days to play golf, and golfers who want to play. The result - the back and forth debate over whether greens should be open or closed. There is no right or wrong answer to this question because of the different needs of individual golf facilities and the different weather conditions.

Common sense dictates that winter play is bad for grass, especially greens. Extra traffic under often marginal conditions causes wear. The difficulty is quantifying the cost of this damage from the perspective of impacts on in-season playing quality in addition to the cost to repair damage that may (or may not) occur with winter play.

Some golf courses simply close completely or close their greens during the winter. If this is an option for your facility, great. Even if only a few greens that are already difficult to manage in season could be closed, the reduction in winter wear will be beneficial. If your course chooses to play golf during the winter, decisions on playability of the golf course should be made on a daily basis. If it is too wet or the greens are partially frozen, the risk for damage is greater. The worst case scenario is thawed conditions at the immediate surface and frozen conditions one or two inches below the surface. The bottom line is, you must weigh the pros and cons for your individual situation and act accordingly.

If there are any questions on winter play, give us a call. We will be happy to visit with you about this issue and provide information that may help with a tough decision.

With the relatively warm weather, there are agronomic concerns too. On Poa annua greens, isolated areas of active anthracnosePoa annua has even hardened-off sufficiently to tolerate low temperatures. Warm temperatures reduce hardening in Poa annua, making the grass more susceptible to winterkill. Without snow cover, the grass has less insulation from sudden drops in temperature, which is the primary cause of crown hydration, especially in grass that is not sufficiently hardened. Time will tell, but this is a cause for concern in the northern tier of the region. Enjoy some bonus golf when the opportunity arises, but realize there are still concerns from winter traffic and Mother Nature.

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