Despite this morning's chilly 5*F, I find myself thinking green, and not because it's St Patty's Day. Hoping for green is a more accurate statement. After a winter of severe cold dappled with a few incomplete, ice layer making thaws, my concerns are on the survival of our fine turf areas, particularly greens. Will they green up as soil temperatures warm up? Or will they stay brown and develop the smell of turfgrass death?
With the snow beginning to slowly recede, I hope to get a peak at some greens this week. The few bare areas on tees and fairways look really good so far, but these aren't the typical spots I need to be concerned with. Theses spots are normally raised, windswept areas that melt off first during a thaw and don't collect standing water. Greens and low lying fairways do collect this water, which turns to ice as cold weather returns. Ice is a wonderful form of water when chilling a nice single malt, but to fine turf it can mean a slow tortuous death if it remains for an extended period of time. And this has certainly been the case in 2014.
Some of our greens and fairways have potentially been under some kind of ice cover for about a month and a half, or more. Poa annua, the predominant species on our greens, can only handle about 50 days of ice cover before it starts to suffocate. We have never had any ice damage here at Chautauqua that I know of, but if there was ever a year, this will be it.
A good question to ask would be "What can be done to prevent ice damage?" Our best course of action is to continue to improve drainage in our greens and fairways. This is done through aerification and topdressing on our greens, and aerification and adding drainage to the fairways to allow the water from thaws to drain through the profile rather than accumulate at the surface. Some of my peers at other courses remove the snow at certain periods of the winter to facilitate ice melt in hopes of preventing such damage. This works for most, but it's my opinion that, for several reasons, this would not be the best solution for us. For starters, we have neither the staff nor the budget to be able to quickly and effectively clear our 44 greens when weather allows. These windows are often small and time is of the essence. Secondly, clearing greens of snow subjects them to other potential turf killing conditions (low temp kill, chilling stress, crown hydration, and desiccation to name a few) that may be more hazardous to our greens than taking a chance with ice. Remember, although there is a first for everything, we have never had ice damage at Chautauqua Golf Club. We have had damage from crown hydration as recent as 2011 and desiccation on the edge of #14 Lake green as recent as 2009. Our annual snowfall of just under 200" has always been a nice protective blanket for our course and I see no reason to unnecessarily subject it to conditions that would be abnormal. This is not to say that my fellow superintendents who remove their snow on a regular basis are wrong in doing so. Quite the opposite, in fact. Every course has its own set of micro-climates that it has to deal with and if in their situation I would likely do the same as them. But here at Chautauqua it is a risk and I will happily play the percentages that favor our turf's survival through any ice problems.
Happy St Patty's Day! And here's to a green and happy spring.