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By Bob Vavrek, senior agronomist, North Central Region
December 16, 2010

Winter injury affected putting greens at many courses across the upper Midwest last year.  Unfortunately, weather conditions have been even more severe this year as we approach the official start of winter. 

Yogi Berra said “it’s déjà vu all over again” and that appears to be what we are experiencing across the upper Midwest this December with respect to weather conditions conducive to winter injury.  The coldest day of last winter (single digits) occurred during mid December and several nights this December have already dipped well below zero. 

Courses fortunate enough to have deep snow cover prior to the onset of frigid temperatures will have less to worry about versus courses in the Milwaukee area where only a dusting of snow was present to insulate the turf.  To make matters worse, nearly an inch of rain preceded a rapid 20 degree drop in temperature that defined the first classic “thaw-freeze” event of the winter.

Superintendents had been hoping for a quiet, uneventful winter of rest to recover from the stress of keeping the playing surfaces alive during a summer that will be remembered most for its widespread losses of turf caused by extended periods of heat and high humidity. As predicted by meteorologists who describe the effects of climate change, extreme weather fluctuations will be more of the rule than the exception.

There isn’t much that can be done right now other than wait and see what occurs during the next weather pattern.  It makes little sense to remove ice or snow accumulations from greens when the night temperatures are below zero and spring is a long, long time away.

No doubt, another bout of severe winter injury to Poa annua greens will make more courses in the Region reconsider options for rebuilding or regrassing greens.  Competition for members and greens fees is keen during the current sluggish golf economy.  Courses that have good greens during April and May will simply out-compete courses that struggle to recover from winterkill. 

Regardless of what stress occurs this winter, the USGA Green Section will be available to help your course prepare for a successful season in 2011.  A Turf Advisory Service visit can be particularly helpful to assess the extent and severity of the damage when winter injury occurs.  In addition, options for facilitating a speedy recovery and preventing winter injury in the future will be included in the written report. 

It seems as though the challenging 2010 season will not end quietly.  Here’s wishing for more reasonable and manageable weather conditions in 2011.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.


Source:  Bob Vavrek, or 262-797-8743 

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