As winter drags on, superintendents are becoming increasingly anxious regarding the health of turf. Some courses have confirmed significant winterkill, and others believe they will see little, if any, injury based on samples taken from high-risk areas of greens. But for the majority of northern golf facilities, we won’t know the status of the turf for at least a few more weeks when the grass breaks dormancy.
Don’t be fooled by the color of the turf immediately following ice and snow melt. Numerous reports have been made over the years about putting surfaces that appeared green and healthy the day snow melted only to slowly turn brown and die once the weather warmed up enough to dry out the turf. On the other hand, some of the weakest looking grass on greens during early spring will sometimes end up being the healthiest areas a month later.
In the southern portion of the region the major concern coming out of winter is the effect of wind desiccation. Grass not covered by snow was exposed to low temperature extremes and drying winds. A straw-brown color is the result of dormancy and the freeze-drying effect of winter winds. Turf samples brought inside have been extra slow to green up, but at least they are alive. We need warmer soil temperatures and sunlight to clearly evaluate how well the turf survived the harsh winter.
The prudent approach is to never make a knee-jerk reaction to the condition of turf right after snow melt. Never proclaim apocalyptic devastation to golfers based on early gray/brown turf color, and never proclaim “all is well” because you removed ice and discovered green grass below. Either way, it’s never fun to be fooled.
Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service
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