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It is my intention to give the readers a better understanding of what we do to maintain The Farms Country Club's 18 hole championship golf course and grounds.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Turf vs. Cold, Snow & Ice

Here is the re-print of my CTGolfer.com Blog entry:

Let’s talk about winter. Not unlike the summer of 2010, this winter is certainly shaping up to be one of a kind. The average snowfall for Connecticut ranges from thirty to fifty inches depending upon your location in the state. Most of our state has already reached or surpassed those numbers with sixty days of winter remaining.

How does winter weather effect golf course turf? You may be surprised to find out that there are both positive and potentially negative effects dependent upon the type of precipitation, temperature and longevity of snow and or ice cover.

The best precipitation for turf is powdery snow. A thick blanket of snow provides an insulating, protective blanket that protects turfgrass from dramatically fluctuating temperatures. Superintendents welcome this because it reduces the chance of damage from dramatic freeze / thaw cycles. When exposed turf thaws in winter, it will begin to break dormancy and root systems will start to absorb moisture. Cell walls get thinner and become more susceptible to damage from a sharp drop in temperature. If temperatures drop dramatically, these swollen cells can be damaged and turf loss can occur. This type of damage is most likely to occur in late winter when freezing and thawing is most common. A nice blanket of snow will limit the dramatic swing in temperature.

A powdery blanket of snow will protect fine turf from winter desiccation. Desiccation is the drying up of turf when exposed to winter winds while not being able to extract moisture from frozen ground. The wind removes moisture from the turf and it is unable to replenish itself because the water is frozen in the soil profile. If turf is exposed to these conditions for extended periods of time, it will die. Superintendents don’t solely rely on snow for protection. Specialized covers or heavy sand topdressing may be installed or applied at the end of the season to protect the turf from desiccation. While these maintenance practices aid in protection, there is no substitute for a blanket of snow.

Ice cover on turf, especially greens, is UNDESIRABLE! When a layer of ice forms on the immediate surface of a green it can cause problems. There is no immediate threat, but a long lasting layer allows toxic gases like Carbon Dioxide to build up. If levels of toxic gases are not able to escape for several weeks the turfgrass will die. Poa Annua, Annual Bluegrass, is more susceptible to this type of damage than Creeping Bentgrass. Unfortunately many courses have high percentages of Poa Annua on their greens.

How does a toxic gas like Carbon Dioxide get there? Without getting too technical, it is the byproduct of cell respiration. Turfgrass under the ice layer is alive. Its cells are still utilizing stored food to survive even though the rate is much reduced in its dormant state. The conversion of food to energy releases several byproducts including toxins like Carbon Dioxide.

How can we save turf from toxic gas build up? There is no easy, sure-proof way to achieve this. Superintendents have tried everything from snow blowing to dark colored sands to aerification and removal of ice layers. Sometimes these practices work and sometimes they cause more harm than good. Many times, the mechanical damage caused by the physical removal of snow and ice is far worse than the speculated, unknown damage beneath the layer. Sometimes hoping for the best and preparedness is the proper course of action.

Being prepared for winter turf damage of any type is always key. At my course, The Farms Country Club, we always take core samples from suspect areas on greens when the ground starts to thaw. These samples are brought into the maintenance center where they can be warmed. By simulating growing conditions, we are able to determine the extent of the damage and take the preparatory steps for repairs. Being prepared includes having a solid plan and having the necessary materials and labor on hand to accomplish our goals as early as possible. It is imperative to overseed, sod, fertilize and topdress as early as possible to give us the best chance of a speedy recovery. Repaired areas don’t have long to establish because the heart of the playing season is not far off. Juvenile turf will soon be subjected to the stress of summer weather and needs to be healthy to survive.

Besides the solid agronomic plan, communication to golfers is critical to success. Superintendents must keep people informed of the situation and the process of its rectification. It is imperative that players understand the severity of the damage, how it will be fixed and the sacrifices they may need to endure to get playing conditions back to normal. Early season restrictions may be in the form of temporary greens, roped sections of greens, higher heights of cut, etc. No one wants to endure these playing conditions, but early season sacrifices will give players the best chance at good greens during the peak of the playing season. Courses that don’t take the necessary steps to fix damaged areas will chase poor turf conditions the entire season.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for powdery snow the rest of the way!