It’s Seventy Degrees Outside, Why Is The Course Still Closed?

By Brian Whitlark, agronomist, Southwest Region
May 24, 2012

Winter desiccation damage was common on Poa annua and bentgrass greens, especially on mounds and on greens exposed to wind.  As a result, many courses delayed opening in order to encourage turfgrass recovery.

In the Reno and Lake Tahoe region, the lack of rain in Reno and snow during the winter months has resulted in significant and widespread turf loss. As a result, many courses were forced to open later than expected. Given the recent warm weather, the delay in opening has come under much scrutiny by the golfing public. It is not uncommon to hear golfers question why the course is closed and why many courses experienced turf loss in such a dry winter. This update is meant to educated golfers about the hazards of cold, dry weather to high elevation courses.  

Low temperature or cold weather damage to plants is a collective term used to describe several forms of injury, including crown hydration, direct low temperature exposure and crown dehydration. Most of the damage reported in the area was related to crown dehydration, also known as desiccation. Desiccation damage occurred primarily in the following areas: 

  • Ridges and other elevated turf areas on greens.
  • Areas identified as “hot spots” during summer heat stress.
  • Areas aerated in the fall, primarily on exposed mounds.
  • On tees, damage occurred in localized spots where irrigation uniformity was poor, where tees were exposed to wind and where thatch was excessive.
  • In fairways, mounds and typical dry areas suffered the worst damage.

There were also reports of ice damage on Poa annua greens. Damage was most pronounced on Poa annua, but areas with bentgrass, perennial ryegrass and even bluegrass were affected. 

In addition to turf damage, turf managers have reported numerous irrigation problems that resulted from soil heaving. Damage included broken pipe (even with those that blew out the irrigation system and only recently recharged), broken heads and failed swing joints. 

The following strategies will encourage recovery from winter desiccation damage: 

  • Use dimple seeders such as the Blec or an aerator outfitted with Job Saver tines to prepare a seedbed. When a more aggressive tactic is required, run the Graden outfitted with 2mm blades in two directions and run the Job Saver tines over the top.  Follow by drop seeding three directions maintain a moist surface.
  • Consider applying phosphorus coated seed (or apply 11-55-0), or use seed mixed with Milorganite as a carrier (1 pound Milorganite with 1/2 pound of seed) and apply with a drop spreader. Follow by dragging with a piece of carpet or coco mat and then spike the surface.
  • Warm putting green soils with clear plastic covers, permeable covers, black topdressing sand or colorants. 
  • Once germination occurs, initiate a light and frequent fertility and irrigation regime. Be patient and avoid the urge to over apply nitrogen, which may result in succulent turf that will be susceptible to scalping and heat stress later in the summer.
  • Mow these areas as needed with a walk-behind mower set to a conservative mowing height (>0.160 inch) and utilize a solid front roller.   
  • Keep the greens closed until the newly established turf has rooted adequately and can tolerate traffic.
  • Begin growth regulator applications after several mowing events on the new turf and when soil temperatures consistently remain above 55 °F.

Winter injury can occur under a variety of conditions. This year, in the absence of the protective blanket that snow provides and limited rains, crown dehydration was a significant problem.  Please do not hesitate to contact our office for more specific information about winter desiccation and recovery tactics. You may also review the following links that offer more detailed information on this subject. 


Source: Brian Whitlark (
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