It might not be the most exciting work we do, but it’s definitely some of the most important work that ensures a great 2020 golf season.
Trees at Arrowhead Golf Club are in full fall colors which signal that winter is approaching. Arrowhead Golf Club is preparing putting green surfaces for winter before it is too late. Preparing can reduce the risk of winter injury and improve springtime playing conditions.
Arrowhead Golf Club is taking the following steps now to help putting green turf prepare for winter:
Solar power is increasingly popular, but golf courses have relied on it forever. Turf grass leaf blades i.e., turf solar panels collect sunlight and convert it to chemical energy that fuels growth. Large solar panels generate more energy than small solar panels. Increasing leaf surface area by raising mowing heights helps putting green turf generate and store energy for overwintering.
Raising mowing heights reduces turf stress. Turf that enters winter in a weakened state is more likely to experience winter injury than healthy turf. Arrowhead Golf Club staff evaluates sun angles in all critical areas of the course. Where possible, prune or harvest unnecessary trees and undergrowth. This provides every opportunity to start the year off with the best possible growing conditions. Progress can be made even if only one or two areas of need are addressed.
Turf needs sunlight during fall to harden off properly so that it is better able to survive harsh winter weather. Sunlight is important even when turf isn’t growing. Winter sunlight helps melt snow and ice. It can also reduce the frequency of freeze and thaw cycles that can cause winter injury. Morning shade receives a lot of consideration during the growing months, but afternoon shade during winter can result in rapid refreezing and winter injury.
Turf needs dry conditions to harden off properly. Aeration should be conducted on greens, tees and fairways. These are the most important areas for play, and as such should be prepared in a proactive manner. Not having the opportunity to do so can compromise the turf’s ability to tolerate winter conditions.
Top dress heavily where possible to provide a degree of insulation near the crowns of the turf plant, while providing a level of free drainage. The rate to which topdressing is applied does vary, but Arrowhead’s target range is at least 100 to 200 lbs. of topdressing per 1,000 square feet. There are returns of scale that have to be considered, and the priorities should begin with the greens, tees, approaches and then, if funds are available, the fairway turf.
Remember that infiltration rates are reduced when soils are frozen. Arrowhead staff removes strips of sod, creating channels that facilitate positive surface drainage of excess water from putting surfaces. In some cases, Arrowhead staff has used heating cables in drainage channels to help keep water flowing by melting any ice that forms. All of Arrowhead’s putting greens have subsurface drainage and in some cases cutting holes from the surface to the top of drain lines in areas where water tends to collect will facilitate drainage throughout winter. Deep aeration can also improve drainage throughout the fall, winter and spring. Better drainage can help turf harden off and reduces its susceptibility to winter injury.
Arrowhead utilizes covers on a few greens throughout the course. The covers are used to protect annual bluegrass putting greens from cold temperature and ice. Covers are comprised of both permeable and impermeable covers and usually offer a form of insulation. Arrowhead uses covers most frequently in areas where there is a history of cold temperature injury. Greens with poor surface drainage are vulnerable to cold temperature injury and are good candidates for the cover system. The use of covers does not guarantee success! Timing the installation and removal of the cover systems can be tricky and labor intensive and monitoring conditions beneath the covers is an acquired skill. However, their use at Arrowhead Golf Club has saved annual bluegrass more times than not.
Research has shown that excessive nitrogen applications can promote lush growth depending on timing and type of fertilizer. Any quick increases in fertility at the wrong time going into winter can increase the vulnerability of turf to winter injury. Applying nitrogen to putting greens that are covered with tarps is especially risky. Arrowhead staff monitors plant health through tissue sampling throughout the year.
Arrowhead Golf Club’s geographical location suggested from research that disease control procedures should be conducted. Most courses in our geographical area treat to control snow molds (pink and gray). The application is made as late in the year as possible to receive season-long control. When these procedures are implemented, other strategies, such as mowing, need to stop. Arrowhead doesn’t want to mow off the protection just to appease a small group of golfers who think the greens should be prepared more aggressively during the winter months. If absolutely necessary, roll the surfaces rather than mow dormant grass!