What Is So Important About Staying Off Frost?

By Elliott L. Dowling, agronomist, Mid-Atlantic Region
January 22, 2014

It is wise to adhere to frost delays because damage caused now can linger until active turf growth resumes in the spring.

The Mid-Atlantic region recently experienced a weather event we have not seen in the last 20 years. What has been dubbed a polar vortex wreaked havoc with the lives of many. It is too early to tell what effect this weather anomaly will have on turf but we are reasonably confident turf health was not affected. However, there is still plenty of winter weather left so do not let your guard down. The possibility for cold weather accompanied by snow and ice is still high for the next month or so.

Having said that, the snow has melted and, for a few, the shining sun means it is a good day to play golf. As we slowly transition to spring we want to discuss a few reasons for course closure that are not uncommon during winter and early spring.

The first reason for course closure is one we are all too familiar with - frost delays. Frost is a normal occurrence this time of year and, on occasion, even in April. Frost is difficult to explain to golfers. It is hard for many to understand that simply walking on frozen grass plants can cause damage. Simply put water inside and affixed to turf leaves freezes. Typically, freezing in and of itself is not a concern, but add mechanical stress such as foot or cart traffic and turf damage can occur. As the plants are crushed beneath tire pressure or foot traffic ice crystals puncture cells in the plant. Ruptured plant cells mean plant functions are compromised and turf damage is then easily observed. Perfect outlines of footprints or cart tires can be visible within an hour or two after initial damage. Depending on the time of year and how fast the plants are growing damage may linger for a month or longer. Damaged plants will eventually recover but why take the risk? Please listen to your golf course superintendent and adhere to frost delay guidelines.

Other complaints often heard include, “Why can’t we take carts today?” or “Why are carts confined to the cart path when yesterday we could go anywhere?” Superintendents are not out for spite when they restrict cart traffic in the winter. Even if grass plants are not be completely dormant in your part of the region during the winter months, growth is still slow at best. For this reason, turf has little to no ability to recover from winter traffic injury.

It is important to evaluate opening or closing the golf course each day during the winter. Even if there is a delay due to frost, the short-term inconvenience is to help protect the turf from long-term damage. Weather conditions change frequently during winter all of which can have an impact on your facility. Remember, damage caused now will likely still be noticeable come spring when weather is often ideal for golf.

As a reminder, our Mid-Atlantic Green Section Regional Conferences are scheduled for Tuesday, March 4 at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., and Tuesday, March 11 at the Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Source: Elliott L. Dowling (edowling@usga.org)

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff  

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