Dew is something early morning golfers are familiar with as it covers the turf of the golf course during the first part of the day. Dew is water in the form of droplets that appears on thin, exposed objects in the morning or evening. As the exposed leaf surface cools by releasing its heat, atmospheric moisture condenses at a rate greater than that at which it can evaporate, resulting in the formation of water droplets. When temperatures are low enough, dew takes the form of ice called "frost".
Frost crystalizes on the grass making the plant hard and brittle. In some instances like at Chalk Mountain in the north county, the entire plant can be frozen, as grass plants are made up of about 90 percent water. Walking on frost-covered greens causes the plant to break and cell walls to rupture, thereby losing its ability to function normally. When the membrane is broken, much like an egg, it cannot be put back together.
Golfers who ignore frost delays will not see immediate damage. The proof generally comes 48-72 hours later as the plant leaves turn brown and die. The result is a thinning of the putting surface and a weakening of the plant. The greens in turn become more susceptible to disease and weeds. While it may not appear to be much of an issue if a foursome begins play early on frost-covered greens, consider the number of footprints that may occur on any given hole by one person is approximately 60. Multiply that by four golfers and that is 240 footsteps on a single frost covered green by the first foursome everyday. That is significant damage!
"This picture shows the actual foot print pattern of ONE foursome playing the hole like normal. Multiply this a couple of times and you can see that when the ground is soft <or frozen> it doesn't take long to produce sever irreversible damage to a green."
As golf enthusiasts superintendents, like myself and my staff, do not like to delay play, we are more concerned about turf damage and the quality of conditions for the golfers. Frost also creates a hardship on a golf facility's staff as all course preparations are put to a halt until thawing occurs. Golf carts can cause considerable damage, therefore personnel cannot maneuver around the course to mow, change cup positions, collect range balls, etc.
One technique employed to reduce possible frost damage is to water the greens to knock off the frost. One problem with this technique is the water could then refreeze and take even longer to thaw or the interior cells of the plant may be frozen too. It may also be possible to reroute play to holes where the frost melts more quickly. But regardless of these methods, the best medicine is for all to understand the hows and whys of the delay and in turn gain a greater appreciation for the golf course. Here on the central coast frost is not a huge problem and usually takes no more than 30 minutes for maintenance and play to begin. When I was in Indiana, it was not uncommon for rounds to be halted until 11 am; we are blessed to live here! If you have any concerns it would also be wise to give the course a phone call before heading out to play to see if tee times have been pushed back due to frost.