Winter ice leaves lingering damage at golf courses
Mother Nature served up sunshine and a string of 70-plus degree days this week.
She wasn’t as cooperative over the winter and golf courses in our region are still dealing with the aftermath.
Winter months always present a challenge for the golf industry. The conditions last December through February put nearly as much stress on superintendents as it did on the greens and fairways.
It was a perfect storm for problems.
“What happened is we had a 4-, 5-inch snowfall near Christmas,” Hangman Valley superintendent Mike Barber explained. “The Monday after Christmas it rained a third of an inch. So it took all that snow and made a layer of slush.
“Then it dropped into the teens. That ice layer was with us well into February.”
Ice covered every green at Hangman and some of the lower portions of fairways. The duration of the ice’s stay had devastating effects on short-rooted poa annua (bluegrass). Turf under ice is susceptible to dying in as little as a few weeks, according to an article by USGA agronomist Adam Moeller.
“It’s a death sentence,” Barber said. “It’s not just here and not only in the Pacific Northwest; I was reading an article about Ontario where they said it was the worst winter in 50 years for turf and golf courses.”
Hangman Valley and many area courses were left with numerous barren patches. The left side of the often-shaded 16th green was hit hard. Not far away, the 17th green, which receives more sunlight and drains well, was relatively unscathed.
At Downriver, fairways were battered. At Avondale, two greens had to be replaced. At Indian Canyon, play began on permanent greens roughly the last two weeks.
“I think pretty much everybody had a tough go of it,” Avondale pro Dan Porter said. “We ended up replacing two greens (Nos. 5 and 6). Even the (fifth) fairway was bad and it’s just now coming back.”
The two greens were re-sodded with bent grass. They’ve been in use since May 7.
“For some reason only a couple of our greens were affected and we’re 100 percent poa, but our fairways …,” Downriver superintendent Roy Cheney said. “Our fourth fairway was maybe 50 percent dead.
“Part of our situation is we aerify our greens really late in the year in October and we got cold weather, so that might have helped our greens absorb some water. They’re just now healing. I had ugly greens for six months but that might have helped out some.”
Courses struck by ice damage are still feeling it in the wallet.
“If someone suspects you have problems, people in the golfing community talk back and forth,” Hangman Valley pro Steve Nelke said. “I can look at names on the Liberty Lake and MeadowWood tee sheet and say, ‘This guy usually plays here and so does this guy.’
“To the credit of probably 95 percent of the people, once I explain what happened they’re sympathetic and they understand. They’ve been very good and loyal.”
Barber has been asked why ice wasn’t removed from the greens. He said it’s not easy to do and it subjects greens to additional damage from equipment and during the removal process.
“And then you’re at the mercy of them being exposed,” Cheney added.
Mother Nature calls the shots, often forcing superintendents to be proactive entering winter and reactive coming into spring.
“What we’ve done is we’ve taken quite a few trees down,” Barber said. “And the other thing we did is aggressively overseed with bent grass when we aerified in August. If we hadn’t done that I guarantee four of those greens would look like cardboard.”
Soil temperatures had to climb to an suitable level – and that takes longer because of Hangman’s location – before Barber could overseed some trouble spots. It was 28 degrees with a heavy frost on the morning of May 12.
The ideal winter weather for our courses?
“A few inches of snow. I’d like to have it melt off once (to check health of the grass),” Cheney said. “And two days later another blanket of snow.”