How do greenkeepers and course managers reassure the most conscientious golfer that frost delays are not designed to frustrate but to protect the key asset on the golf course, the greens? STRI consultant, Michael Boyes, provides his top tips for managing player expectation.
Frost remains one of the most contentious issues for any golf course manager. It will rear its head in discussions with greens committee and members, and when aiming to deliver longevity of the playing surfaces whilst tackling the unavoidable curve-balls nature throws our way.
This proves particularly difficult when “Joe Bloggs” down the road opens his greens all year round, claiming frost doesn’t damage the grass at all!
Understandably for many the ultimate decision may be a commercial one, but we must be under no illusion that foot and vehicular traffic during periods of frost, and particularly as it begins to thaw, is detrimental to the health of the turf across the golf course.
What is frost?
Frost is essentially frozen dew where ice crystals develop on the outside of the plant, but importantly ice will also form inside the grass blade itself as the plant cells are largely made up of water.
Turf, which is normally quite resilient to traffic, becomes brittle and vulnerable to damage as the frozen plant cells rupture and are unable to repair themselves. Although the visual signs of damage are often not immediately obvious, they can appear in the following days and take months to repair.
In cold, clear nights there is a loss of heat from surfaces which reach freezing point even with an air temperature above zero. This is called a radiation frost and though leaves may freeze the soil doesn’t. This frost will lift relatively quickly.
Frost damage can appear right across the golf course, but closely mown areas are the most susceptible. This is because there is less leaf area to resist the impact on the turf, on a surface which suffers the most concentrated levels of traffic during routine play. A typical foursome takes 300 steps or more on each green, each of which can cause serious damage under frosty conditions.
The course manager and thereby duly appointed turf expert decides when the course is shut for frost and more importantly when it re-opens for play – no question.
Just because there may be no frost evident on the 1st tee when viewed from the Pro-Shop window does not mean we are good to go. The course manager has the expertise to fully appreciate the micro-climates which exist across the site and that the colder, north-facing slopes, low-lying and sheltered areas will continue to be impacted by frost, long after other areas may have thawed significantly.
Also, critically, when the visual signs of frost have only just abated on the putting surfaces this can often represent the time at which the turf is most susceptible to significant long-term damage. The turf and organic matter layer at the surface may have thawed sufficiently but the underlying soils could remain frozen.
A shearing of the roots can occur if play is allowed to recommence too early, with the top, softer section of the profile moving under the resultant foot traffic causing it to become detached from the frozen root system below.
How do we reduce the impact of frost?
Consider the development of select temporary greens (located sufficiently away from the actual greens) and the possible re-routing of play to avoid those putting surfaces which traditionally remain frozen for the longest. This could permit the reopening of the course before the frost has dissipated across the site completely.
Undertake appropriate thinning and removal of woodland around key playing areas (ie greens and tees) to improve the general growing environment with increased light penetration and air circulation.
Persistent shade increases the influence of frost by preventing sunlight from melting the ice crystals, which is particularly problematic if it affects those holes which are earlier in the round.
How do we manage course closure for frost?
Adopt a detailed and formal ‘Frost Policy’ which is specific to your course and communicate the reasons for and procedures associated with the policy consistently through all available channels (ie signage, website, members’ newsletters, tee sheet notes, social media).
Ideally, in the first instance this should commence two weeks before frost is typically evident on your site and then be retained year-on-year.
Ensure that all interested parties are aware that one person (course manager), and one person only, is responsible for closing the course for a frost delay and duly authorised to signify when the closure is lifted, and play can recommence.
Allow enough time for the maintenance crew to undertake the essential course set-up operations, as the golfers will inevitably expect to commence play as soon as the frost has gone.
With the correct level of information and communication we can assure the conscientious golfer that frost delays are not designed to frustrate but intended more as a means of protecting the key asset on the golf course, the greens, to avoid unnecessary damage and promote longevity of the surfaces and extend the playing season as much as possible.
We, as turfgrass professionals, want to ensure the golfers have the very best playing surfaces we can produce all year round, and we need their help and understanding to work with nature towards this aim.
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For advice on how to deal with your winter sports surfaces, call +44 (0) 1274 565131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org