Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Winter Course Status Update

The golf course is once again visible following the recent warm temperatures and rainfall. As I have previously mentioned in earlier blog entries and newsletter articles, an insulating snow cover affords the golf course turf the best scenario for successfully surviving the winter. I have taken advantage of the recent mid-winter thaw to survey the golf course. Following I will list the primary areas of concern for winter damage along with the current status of NSCC:
  • Snowmold Fungi There are two types of snowmold fungi which can present problems in Wisconsin. "Pink Snowmold" prefers no snow cover and is active when the temperature is just above freezing. "Gray Snowmold" presents itself under a prolonged, dense snow cover. NSCC staff preventatively applies plant protectants each fall to discourage both types of fungi and the damage they are capable of inflicting. At this point of the winter, I not found any fungal activity on the course's greens, tees, and fairways.

  • Dessication This type of winter damage can most often be found on greens that are exposed to the cold, dry, winter winds. The extent of damage is dependent upon to location of the green and the length of exposure to the winter air. The most susceptible green to winter dessication is 7 White due to its elevated location. Thus far, I have not seen any areas on the course which look to have been damaged due to dessication.

  • Freeze-thaw Cycles These cycles are most damaging when they occur in the late winter months. Once the turfgrass plants begin to break dormancy, the tender new plants are highly susceptible to freezing. A sudden drop in temperatures following dormancy can actually rupture the plant's cell walls causing death. While we can't control the weather, the best we can do is manipulate the plant's nutrition. By timing fall fertilizer applications in a manner that allow the plants to harden off in fall, and by slowly bringing the plants out of dormancy in the spring, we can minimize the potential for damage. Since our recent thaw cycle has occurred in mid-winter, the turfgrass plants should have enough carbohydrate reserves remaining to remain viable.

  • Ice Cover Since even dormant turfgrass plants require both oxygen and the ability to release carbon dioxide, a prolonged, thick ice cover poses the greatest risk for winter turfgrass damage. The two predominate turfgrass species found on NSCC's greens, tees, and fairways, creeping bentgrass and annual bluegrass, are quite different in their ability to tolerate ice cover. Bentgrass can survive over 80 days of ice cover while Annual Bluegrass can be completely killed after only 40 days. It is important to note that not all ice is the same. For example if we received a couple of inches of rain on warm day, then the night time temperature dipped into the single digits, a hard, impermeable layer of ice would be formed. This type of ice presents the largest potential for turfgrass suffocation. The ice which can currently be found throughout NSCC has not been formed in this manner. Instead the ice has been formed by thawing snow, and has not been frozen by a quick freeze. Air bubbles are abundant throughout the ice, indicating that gas exchange is possible.

As you can see, the golf course is an active place in the winter, even though the plants are not actively growing. As the winter progresses, the golf course maintenance staff will continue to monitor turfgrass conditions. While all necessary preventative measures were put in place last fall, the NSCC golf course maintenance team will not hesitate to take the appropriate measures, such as physical ice removal from greens, should conditions warrant in the future.

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