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The arrival of cooler weather means golf courses in Florida, Arizona and other winter hotspots need to get ready for a busy season ahead. Meanwhile, courses in colder climates are taking some important steps to give themselves the best chance of getting through winter unscathed. If you play golf in an area where frost delays, freeze warnings or feet of snow are part of life during winter, here’s a few things superintendents are doing to prepare courses for the cold weather ahead:

Winterize the Irrigation System

Removing water from the irrigation system is essential in regions where the ground freezes. Otherwise, that water will freeze and expand, potentially breaking pipes and sprinklers and creating a laundry list of costly and time-consuming repairs. “Blowing-out” the irrigation system involves draining the pipes and blowing air through the system to remove any water. Timing the process right is often a challenge. If a course shuts down the system too early, warm and dry weather may return to stress the grass. If you wait too long, a sudden cold snap can cause problems.  

Raise Mowing Heights

Research has shown that raising mowing heights late in the season, especially on putting greens, is one of the best things superintendents can do to protect turf in winter. You might notice a slowdown in green speeds or a little more grass on the fairways, but that extra bit of leaf surface helps the grass store energy and provides added protection from cold and ice. For courses with bermudagrass that goes dormant during winter, raising the mowing height prevents excessive green speeds and reduces the risk of fairway and rough areas getting worn down completely during winter play. 

Winter Pest Protection

Even though grass isn’t growing much during winter, it’s still vulnerable to diseases and other pests. A primary concern is snow mold, which doesn’t necessarily need snow to develop! Weeds can also be an issue as grass grows more slowly and starts to thin out. Disease control applications are made at many courses in the fall to prevent damage during winter and spring, and weed control may be an ongoing process throughout the fall and winter in places with warm-season grasses like bermudagrass and zoysiagrass.

Covering Greens

Covering greens is done for different reasons depending on how cold and icy it gets in your region – and a few different types of covers are used depending on the purpose. Putting greens in northern areas, particularly ones with a lot of Poa annua, are often covered for long periods of time with an impermeable material to prevent injury from ice and cold. 

Bermudagrass greens in southern areas are susceptible to damage when temperatures fall below approximately 25 degrees F. When cold weather is forecast in these areas, lighter covers are used for short periods of time and then removed when it’s safe. This on-and-off process is hard work for the maintenance team and it disrupts golf, but missing a few rounds when it’s 38 degrees outside is a small price to pay for avoiding winter injury that can ruin a course’s entire spring.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Getting a course ready for Old Man Winter will have an impact on playing conditions, but the transition from fall to winter is a reality that golfers and superintendents have to face. Remember that having a great spring depends on getting the course through winter in the best shape possible. Also, keep in mind that most courses reduce the number of staff significantly in the winter so the tasks described above must be accomplished with a much smaller maintenance team. If you see them trying to install putting green covers on a cold and windy day, or blowing out the irrigation system while the first flakes of snow begin to fall, tip your hat and thank them for their hard work.