Northeast News Update February 15, 2012 By Jim Skorulski

Removing covers can sometimes be a guessing game in open, warm winters. The opaque covers elevate temperatures, initiating earlier growth and leaving annual bluegrass more susceptible to a deep freeze. 

Mild weather complicates late winter decisions…   

The winter weather extremes continue in New England and across the Northeast. The warm temperature anomaly this winter dominates the minds of turf managers and golfers, albeit in much different ways. Most golfers see the warm weather as a unique opportunity to play golf. Superintendents see the open winter in a slightly less positive light considering the potential impacts the mild temperatures will bring later in spring. No matter how you stand on the winter play issue, there will be some cost in terms of wear and tear associated with keeping greens open to play through the winter. The extent of that injury depends on the volume of play and weather conditions that occur over the next three to four weeks. 

Cold Temperature Injury and Covers 

Many turf managers have concerns on how annual bluegrass will respond to the higher-than-normal temperatures. So far, so good is the word, at least on golf courses in the central and southern parts of the region. The likelihood for turf damage in the northern part of the region is higher due to the extended ice cover and even more severe temperature fluctuations. Experienced turf managers know that the potential for harsh winter weather still remains. Not surprisingly, there is concern with grass under covers being too green and lush for this time in winter.  The concerns are warranted, especially with annual bluegrass.

Managing covers through the warmer weather can be unnerving. Your mind says to remove the covers, but your gut feeling is to remain conservative in anticipation of winter weather that is still likely to occur. There is no easy, clear-cut recommendation. The decisions depend on your site conditions, location, grass species, cover type, available staffing and membership. The following points should be considered when managing turf covers in late winter.

  • Temperature spikes can be quite high under exposed translucent or darker colored covers in late winter. It will be helpful to remove this type of cover on sunny and warm days. Leave the covers off the greens as long as the forecast calls for moderate temperatures.  Keep covers and staff nearby in case the weather turns for the worse, and it probably will.    
  • Temperatures under white cover materials or where insulating materials are in place will be impacted less by sun and probably require no attention at this point. 
  • The decision to permanently remove covers is more difficult. That decision takes into consideration current conditions and also relies on longer range forecasts. Begin the process by monitoring temperatures under the covers. A good rule of thumb is to begin the removal once the temperatures beneath the covers are consistently at or above 43-45° (6°-7° C). Many managers begin the process even earlier when the longer range weather forecast is favorable.
  • There is a transition period for recently uncovered turf. The succulent plants need to be hardened off gradually and not immediately exposed to very cold temperatures or desiccating wind. As mentioned earlier, keep a cover available to protect the green should the forecast call for very cold temperatures.
  • The process of removing and replacing covers is labor intensive. Manipulating covers on two or three green surfaces by a small staff is possible. Managing covers on eighteen greens will require bringing in extra staff members.  
  • Ice located on top of impermeable covers should not yet be a concern. It should melt naturally once exposed to the sun.
  • Ice that has been in place on turf for more than 30 days should probably be exposed if it is not already, and some action taken to encourage its removal when temperatures are conducive to do so. Darkening agents will work more effectively now with the higher sun angles. Extract a sample from under ice-covered areas to check viability of the grass.


A return to more seasonal temperatures and a little snow cover over the next several weeks would be ideal.  I know…, be careful what you wish for.      

Upcoming Green Section Seminars 

New England Green Section Seminar- Canton, MA 

The USGA Green Section NE Region, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Golf Association and Golf Course Superintendent Association of New England, are offering an educational and networking opportunity to kick-off the 2012 season. The New England Green Section Seminar is a good way for golf course superintendents to join with their club officials, golf course owners, managers, and golf course professionals to hear about the management issues that will impact their operations in the up-coming season.  Location: Blue Hill CC in Canton, MA on March 20, 2012. Click on the link below for registration information. 

USGA Green Section Seminar-Rochester, NY 

In cooperation with the Club Managers Association, Western NY Golf Course Superintendents Association, Finger Lakes Golf Course Superintendents Association and Rochester District Golf Association, the USGA Green Section NE Region will conduct a seminar at Oak Hill CC in Rochester, NY on Tuesday, March 27, 2012.  This seminar is for golf course officials, golf course superintendents, managers, members, golf course owners and operators, golf professionals, golf association officials and interested golfers.

A continental breakfast starts at 7:30 am and the seminar runs until 3:30 pm.  Please click on the link below and enter the Event Code negs for details and to register. 

We hope to see you there!

Northeast Region Green Section- Dave Oatis, Director; Adam Moeller, Agronomist Jim Skorulski, Senior Agronomist