Spring Fever In February

By Ty McClellan, agronomist, Mid-Continent Region
February 17, 2011

Courses are most vulnerable to traffic damage when snowmelt is occurring.  Play should never be allowed during wet soil conditions because of the increased risk of compaction and rutting. 

Only a week ago a whopping 49 of the 50 U.S. states had snow cover.  This was the after-effects of one of the worst winter storms on record that hammered much of the country with ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures.  In the upper Mid-Continent region, some were buried beneath nearly 28 inches of snow. 

Fast forward to this week, and temperatures climbed into the 50’s and 60’s.  In fact, a few parts of the region have experienced record daily temperature highs for February.  It’s hard to imagine it, but areas in the Great Plains that saw temperatures dip to -35°F last week, reached close to 65°F this week.  That’s a 100-degree turnaround in a week!  

Keep in mind that it is times like these where golf courses are most vulnerable to traffic damage.  Even when air temperatures rise to a comfortable level to play golf, soils may thaw near the surface but will remain frozen several inches below.  Subsurface drainage is impeded, which causes water to dam at the surface.  Soft and wet soils are extremely prone to compaction damage from any sort of traffic, and rutting is possible with heavy-tire traffic.  Either will require significantly more aeration in the spring and summer to correct the damage that has been done, and spring green-up will be slowed considerably.  Play should never be allowed during such conditions! 

It is likely that much of the snow and ice covering putting greens has melted.  For superintendents, it is important that water can freely exit the green so that it does not puddle and refreeze on the surface.  It takes just a few freeze-thaw cycles and there is sure to be winter injury by way of crown hydration injury.  The common question of whether to remove snow and ice from greens, or not, is never easily answered and it depends on many variables, including site conditions and weather forecasts.  Regardless of the decisions made, there is sure to be some degree of second-guessing involved.  Even the best laid plans may fail.  To a large extent, winter injury remains one of the unsolved mysteries in our industry.

For golf enthusiasts and anyone experiencing the winter blues, the recent warm-up is only temporary.  Another winter storm is expected in a few days.  In fact, winter is still some six weeks or so from being over.  So, continue utilizing all-season driving ranges to keep your swing sharp and rely on your superintendent and knowledgeable course officials for the green light as to when it is safe to tee it up for real. 

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at tmcclellan@usga.org or (630) 340-5853, or Bud White at budwhite@usga.org or (972) 662-1138. 


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