Saturday, April 26, 2014

Winter Damage 2013/2014

"There's a lot of dead grass on golf courses this spring. How come the Links looks so good?"

The winter of 2013/2014 was one of the harshest on record. Almost every golf course in the mid-west suffered some turf loss especially on greens. Reports are coming in from golf courses across the region and the news for some is devastating. A number of golf courses have lost so much turf they have decided to close  and re-seed the greens. A number of courses are playing temporary greens until the turf that is left recovers.

Record cold and snow left many golf courses with dead turf on their greens.

The turf at the Village Links came through the winter with few problems. So why did the winter weather affect some courses more than others? Was it luck?

It's mid-April and the trees haven't started leafing out. As soil temperatures rise the turf begins to green up and we find the Village Links came through the winter in decent shape.
Indeed, we were very lucky to not have significant turf loss after the record 2013/2014 winter. So why didn't we have major turf loss?

Luck. We were lucky. A number of very good golf courses with good superintendents performing state of the art maintenance practices  lost turf. Often the difference  between healthy and dead turf is so minute. A couple of degrees colder at one location or slight drainage issues at another can be the difference between success and failure.

Poa annua. We don't have very much poa annua on our golf course. Poa annua is a nuisance turf that is prevalent on most golf course in the U.S. We have been on an aggressive program at the Village Links to eliminate poa anuua since 2007. Virtually all the turf that died this winter was poa annua. Golf courses that had a lot of poa had a much greater risk of losing turf.

Top dressing. In late November we apply a moderately heavy layer of sand top dressing to the greens. This extra layer provides a little extra protection to the delicate turf on greens.

One of the reasons poa annua is susceptible to winter damage is it's shallow roots. The poa plant on the right only has roots 1.5" long. The bent grass plant to the left has 6" roots. Poa plants are easily injured when air temperatures dip below -5°.
There are several things that happened this winter that resulted in dead poa. The first was 2 periods of warm weather early in the winter followed by a 30°+ plunge in temperatures. Winter started out very cold with temperatures 10° to 15° below normal. On December 28, 2013 the temperature rose to 49°. The rise in temperature caused Poa annua to briefly start to grow. The temperature dipped to -1° two days later. The crowns of Poa plants which were gorged with water from the sudden warm-up were damaged when the freezing temperatures suddenly returned. The same thing happened on February 18, 2014 when there was a 3 day period of temperatures in the upper 40's followed by cold temperatures including -2° on February 26th. Most superintendents knew trouble was brewing. The February thaw also resulted in a layer of ice up to 3" thick on many greens. The ice layer sealed off the turf below which caused further injury. The third thing that hurt turf this winter was high winds. Most of the snow this winter had very little moisture content. It was a light fluffy snow that was easily blown around by high winds. There were several times this winter when high winds stripped the snow off the golf course exposing mounded areas. The high winds continued to blow causing the plants to 'freeze dry' resulting in further turf loss.

This is how many greens in our region looked in early March. The lighter colored spots are Poa annua and they are not looking too healthy.

By the first week of April the bent grass was greening up and it was obvious that most Poa annua did not survive.

This close up shows a few sprigs of bent grass emerging from the dead Poa plants. Many greens in the mid-west have up to 90% Poa annua on their greens. The harsh winter weather = dead  Poa greens. Yes, we were lucky.