Frosting – Good On Cake, Not On Turfgrass

By Larry Gilhuly, director, Northwest Region
November 13, 2013

(L) Trees have a major impact on frost retention on fairways. Allowing carts in this situation will result in turf damage that will be visible for months to come. (R) Damage caused by foot traffic on frosted fairway turf will not disappear until turf repairs itself through growth, which may not be until spring.

In some portions of the Northwest region it has already happened…many times. In other areas of the region, it never will. What natural occurrence am I referring? Frost of course. 

The Northwest region extends from Alaska to Hawaii with an additional nine continental U.S. states and four Canadian provinces in cooler climates. For most, excluding Hawaii, frost is a natural occurrence that has already come as we have moved into the last vestiges of fall and soon into the cold of the winter. For golf facilities still open for play and that must therefore account for frost, please pay close attention to the following: 

  • Frost will cause damage to turf when walked upon. While there are isolated examples where players are allowed to walk freely on the golf course with minimal damage, make no mistake that any form of traffic on frosted turf will result in weakened turf. This is especially true for greens and other areas with low-mowed turf.
  • Frost on greens should be avoided (especially around the hole). Just one foursome of players can create hundreds of footprints on a green, and most of the traffic is concentrated around the hole. If frost is present, severe turf damage will occur even from just a few players. This may not immediately show itself with “black” footprints, but you can be assured the putting surfaces will be weakened heading into the remainder of the winter and spring.
  • The removal of trees will have a major positive impact on the formation of frost. There is no question that shade has a prolonged impact with frost on putting surfaces. Trees near greens not only impact turf growth during the growing season, but also severely push back starting times.
  • Focus on removal of trees that block morning sunlight on the first holes of your golf course. Many times golf facilities hold back play too long or play “temporary” greens due to frost on the first few holes on the course. By removing trees that block early morning sunlight, the opportunity to open the course earlier is achieved. The removal of these trees also helps during the growing season by adding needed sunlight and airflow.
  • Restricting carts to paths is required when frost is on fairways. Unless you want black tire marks all over your golf course with months of recovery needed in the spring, carts must be kept on paths any time frost is present. For those that open the course with frost on fairways and roughs, in most cases, footprints of players can be expected, but carts allowed to roam will cause major turf damage.
  • Frost will melt away, but don’t melt away from the golf shop when it occurs. Keeping players that are anxious to get out on the course in the golf shop or clubhouse is never looked upon with glee. However, what a great time to educate players on the damage that can be caused by their feet, pull carts or power carts. Showing this Frost Issues video in the golf shop or having photos or articles showing the damage is a great way to keep your players from becoming “frosted” while they wait.
  • Finally, frost can cause personal injury when it accumulates on shoes. While keeping players off the course when frost is present is advised for health of the turf and condition of the golf course, the personal safety of the players also needs to be considered. Frost on spikeless or spiked shoes can and does accumulate, resulting in a much higher chance of slip and fall injuries.

By following these suggestions, your playing surfaces will be in far better health and condition come spring of next year. At that time “you can have your cake and eat it too.” Just don’t forget the frosting. 

Source: Larry Gilhuly (

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service  

Contact the Green Section Staff

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