The cold weather experienced this March is far different than March of 2012 for the Northeast Region. Last year, many courses in the Northeast were open and had plenty of golfers playing at this point. The recent blast of cold air and snow that hit many parts of the region has golfers and course superintendents wondering when the golf season is going to start. The long range forecast suggests a continued stretch of cold weather, which is likely to slow the spring green-up and growth at many facilities. However, golf diehards are still eager to play despite the cold temperatures. The decision to open the course for play before the grass is actively growing is a difficult one, especially given the economic outlook for many facilities. Heavy traffic on grass that is not growing could weaken the putting greens and make them vulnerable to problems later in the season. If the greens are open for play before they are growing, be mindful that adequate traffic management is important to avoid concentrated wear from developing.
The cold temperatures are also making it challenging for golf courses still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy. Those facilities that lost grass from flooding are in the process of cultivating and seeding the damaged areas. Germination is dependent on soil temperatures so the recovery process will be slow as long as low temperatures persist. The use of covers to warm the soils is a great option until more consistent warm weather is experienced.
One positive that could develop as a result of the recent cold snap is the impact on insect populations, particularly Annual Bluegrass Weevils. These destructive and difficult to control insects can survive the cold winter temperatures well. However, once warmer temperatures are experienced in the spring these insects wake up and lose their tolerance of cold temperatures to some extent. Therefore, it is possible that the cold weather experienced after the previous warmer weather in the first half of March could prove to be lethal to some of these insects. Regardless, monitoring Annual Bluegrass Weevil activity with pitfall traps and soap flushes is crucial to implementing a successful control program.
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.