The winter golf season in Florida is now in full swing. Unlike 2010 and 2011, enjoyable mild to warm temperatures have kept golfers on the course. However, rounds continue to be down and some clubs are still struggling to achieve desired membership levels.
Until the second week in January when a cold front came through and frost was experienced, bermudagrass remained green and continued to grow a little. This growth helped mitigate the impact of winter season traffic and wear. Now, at all courses, roughs have gone off-color, and, especially in locations where concentrated cart traffic occurs, the turf has literally been beaten down. It will be six to eight weeks before sustained, active bermudagrass growth resumes in Central to South Florida so it is essential to intensively manage cart traffic to limit the damage as much as possible. For more on this topic, read Todd Lowe’s November 16, 2011 regional update, Dealing with Cart Traffic.
The front page headline “Drought’s Return May be Imminent” in the Tuesday, January 17 th Palm Beach Post raises an additional concern for the Florida winter golf season. The winter and spring is the normal dry season, but already rainfall is 27% less than last year’s dry season, which broke records going back at least 80 years. The current National Weather Service three month outlook is predicting below normal rainfall as a result of the Pacific Equatorial La Nina effect. This could result in being back in an official drought condition as early as mid to late February. The South Florida Water Management District has issued a water shortage warning, and hopefully the district will not have to impose water use restrictions.
If we do go through a period of very limited or no rainfall, an initial concern will be a progressive buildup of salt in the upper regionalUpdateContentzone of putting greens. This is true even at courses with good quality irrigation water sources. It is not too early to begin checking for salt buildup with an EC meter to determine if and when initiation of flushing irrigation cycles and other measures need to be undertaken.
Through fairway and rough areas, limited rainfall, in combination with low humidity and windy conditions, has resulted in localized dry spots at many courses. Where firm and dry playing conditions are desired, the golfers are starting to accept a little bit more off-color turf, however in another month or two when temperatures begin to increase, the rapid onset of drought stress will be much more of a management concern, and spot watering of large areas a less practical proposition.
At a later time, a regional update on drought management strategies and options will be posted if this becomes more of a concern. Hopefully, this is not the case, but, as always, the Green Section regional agronomists are available to be of assistance.