COURSE CARE
Winter Season Conditions and Concerns February 27, 2015

Winter Season Conditions and Concerns

By John H. Foy, Director
February 6, 2008

The Florida winter golf season is in full swing, and golf courses throughout the state are hosting peak seasonal play, although many courses are reporting reduced rounds relative to the past couple of years. There is intense competition to attract and retain members, and, naturally, without a full membership, operating costs must be reduced. The current economic slowdown is definitely impacting golf operations throughout the state.

As far as course conditions, the mild winter temperatures have prevailed, and throughout the central and southern part of the state, bermudagrass and seashore paspalum have maintained a green color character and some growth. This has been a positive since many facilities experienced a less than satisfactory fall overseeding and cutbacks in overseeding were implemented because of concerns about pending irrigation restrictions. At least along the lower east coast of Florida, timely and adequate rainfall has occurred such that the mandated Phase III water use restrictions have not had a big impact. During my TAS visits over the past two to three weeks, golf course superintendents are providing appropriate and good quality overall conditioning for daily play.

In contrast, at courses with moderate to heavy daily play, typical wintertime cart traffic wear and damage is apparent. The result is golfer complaints about tight fairway lies, loss of definition between the fairway and rough cuts, and a clumpy and inconsistent rough. At courses through the middle part of the state and along the west coast where a moderate to severe drought has persisted, cart traffic wear and damage has been greatly exacerbated. Over the years, the importance of proper preparations during the late summer and early fall, along with aggressive cart traffic management, have been stressed for minimizing damage and surviving early winter season play in the best possible condition. The goal at courses in central to south Florida is to survive until early to mid-March when sustained growth and recovery begins to occur in response to increasing day length and temperatures.

For the 2008 winter golf season, surviving until early to mid-March continues to be a primary goal; however there also is tremendous concern about what lies ahead. As we move through the spring, increasing day length and temperatures results in a corresponding increase in turfgrass water use rates and irrigation needs. For courses in the South Florida Water Management District, the Phase III water use restrictions requires a 45% reduction in permitted pumping allocations, which presents a challenging, but manageable, situation.

A big problem arises because the reductions are based on a monthly predictive calculation, and, at many facilities, it has been determined that allocations are actually 60% to 70% less than actual irrigation usage based on the past five year averages during February, March and April. If timely and adequate rainfall does not occur during this three month period, many courses will have to limit supplemental irrigation to greens and tees, and significant portions of the fairways and roughs will go into drought stress. While bermudagrass and seashore paspalum have good drought tolerance, a much greater impact beyond off-color turf will be experienced.

In previous Florida Region web updates, drought management tips have been offered, such as raising heights of cut and mowing less frequently. At this point, however, while no doubt unpopular with golfers, an extremely proactive and aggressive cart traffic management program is needed. Along with strictly enforced cart usage polices, directional control devices need to be put into place before excessive wear and damage occurs.

There are golf courses that are lucky enough to have an unrestricted irrigation water source available such as recycled water. At these facilities it will be possible to maintain an overall uniform green color, which will only create more problems at facilities that must manage with a restricted water source. There is no doubt that abundant summertime rains will once again occur in Florida, but golfers as well as the general public need to accept that water conservation and use restrictions will be a fact of life in Florida as we go forward.

Source: John Foy; jfoy@usga.org or 772-546-2620.