The Northeast Region of the USGA Green Section may be the smallest in terms of area, but it has a wide range of turf and weather diversity. This year, record snowfall has occurred in parts of New England while southern portions of the region are considering when to allow golfers to return to the course.
Some New England golf courses are approaching or exceeding 30 days under snow or ice. Annual bluegrass (Poa annua) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) are most susceptible to winter injury. Pay close attention to ice coverage on surfaces primarily composed of these grasses.
If there is concern about turf health, bring turf samples indoors to incubate. Growth will be encouraged when turf plugs are brought indoors and allowed to warm to room temperature. If incubated plugs green-up and grow, the area from which the plugs were taken is OK. However, if no greening occurs, you likely have some winterkill.
Superintendents in Western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia are reporting similar concerns. Early February brought upwards of 6 inches of snow to the area. The weeks following have been a rollercoaster of temperatures. Daytime temperatures above freezing in conjunction with rain events have led to snow melting, resulting in subsequent refreezing when nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. Superintendents are asking the question, “When should we remove ice?” Fortunately, we are nearly halfway through February and if historical weather patterns hold true, solid ice formations should not persist into the critical period.
Superintendents in the southern portion of the region are battling another common winter issue, winter play. I urge golfers to remember the on-again, off-again freeze events that are occurring. Playing golf on soil that is thawed on the surface but frozen below can damage turf health. Ruts created from traffic on saturated soils can remain into spring. Additionally, ball marks and divots created during winter will be slow to recover. Voids created during winter play provide an opportunity for Poa annua germination and establishment.
Keeping play off a golf course during warm winter days is challenging. The decision to allow play is not as easy as watching the weather, many factors must be considered. Risking damage during the winter for a few does not outweigh the potential for compromising spring playing conditions for many.
Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service
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