Golf in the northeast has slowed significantly over the past week as frost delays are getting longer and darkness hits earlier each day. It’s tough on anyone hoping to get in a few more rounds before the New Year. Traffic on frost-covered turf can be very damaging; although the delays may be frustrating, they are necessary to preserve the long-term health of the grass. Turf has gone dormant (i.e. stopped growing) at most courses in the region, so it’s a great time to close the greens and direct play onto temporary surfaces. Traffic and subsequent thinning on dormant greens will not recover until growth resumes in the spring, which can ultimately impact spring and summer conditions. Playing conditions on the greens at this point are sure to be bumpy and inconsistent and often don’t play much better than quality temporary greens anyway. Although the decision may be unpopular, directing play to temporary surfaces will lead to better putting green turf next year.
Daily maintenance programs have scaled back significantly, and, in many cases, replaced by course improvement projects, equipment repair, and/or tree pruning/removal. Courses that take advantage of the offseason to install drainage, remove trees that block sunlight and air movement, and many other course improvement projects increase their ability to produce good golf conditions and healthy turf for the upcoming season, so take advantage of the dry weather and frozen soils.
Many golf course superintendents have recently finalized their operating budgets for next season. The economy has affected every course differently, but it’s safe to say that only a small proportion of courses have seen increases in operating budgets over the past few seasons. Golfers should be aware that the overall budget, particularly resources allocated towards labor, is the most influential factor in producing a well-conditioned golf course. If golf conditions have not fallen short of your expectations, realize that changes in the operating budget may be a major underlying factor.
Finally, enjoy some down time away from the golf course with friends and family. Superintendents should use the offseason to reflect back on the tough year and try to re-energize for next season. The work/life balance is usually challenging for everyone, and the holiday season provides a great opportunity to regain some stability and take a breath.
Everyone in the Northeast Region hopes you have a happy and safe holiday season!
USGA agronomists can provide insightful and invaluable information involving all areas of golf course maintenance, which will help maximize turf health, playability, and efficiency. Contact Dave Oatis, Director firstname.lastname@example.org; Adam Moeller, Agronomist email@example.com; or Jim Skorulski, Senior Agronomist firstname.lastname@example.org for a Turf Advisory Service visit this season.