It is fall again and in many areas of the county and world, golf course turf is beginning its season of sleep. These turf types have earned this rest after providing us with hours of enjoyment this past season! The recent two past seasons in the midwest and East have been extremely difficult for turf health given the drought and high temperatures that have been experienced in many areas or flooding and humidity in other areas. Regardless of whether you have warm season (Bermuda) or cool season (fescue, bluegrass, and bentgrass) turf, this is the time of year the grass plant is trying to store energy for their winter dormancy period. You can think of this dormancy like a bear's hibernation. Well, actually that is not true as bear's do not truly hibernate...how about the hibernation of a turtle. At this time turf managers are feeding their turf with fertilizer formulations that are readily taken up by the plants for carbohydrate storage in their root structures. This storage is actually how the plants survive throughout the winter months as photosynthesis and respiration are considerably slowed down or nearly stopped depending upon your climate and turf type. Without this carbohydrate storage the plant may die during the winter and not green up in the spring. Carbohydrates are the energy source for the plants just like in our own bodies.
The phenomenon of frost also occurs at this same time period. Frost and foot or cart traffic can actually be a killer of turf during the fall months. When the temperatures are dropping and day lengths continue to shorten the plants ability to create and store energy is significantly decreased as well. Plants need the sun to photosynthesize (make food). The shortened day length also means the soil is cooling down but often times is warmer than the outside air temperature. This leads to FROST or ice crystals on the outside of plants. When the frost is really heavy the actual internal cells of the plant can also become frozen. Frost is a naturally ocurring phenomenon and does not hurt the turf on its own, but when combined with foot or cart traffic, it can have dire consequences on the turf survival. When a tire or foot applies pressure to the frosted leaf the crystals of the ice and frozen plant cells can rupture or burst.
Plants use a structure inside of the cells called mitochondria to produce photosynthesized sugars into a usable energy form of ATP or ADP much like our human digestive system. When the plant cell is ruptured the cell dies and the mitochondria is no longer able to produce energy to the plants' roots. If the majority of the cells are ruptured then the plant looses its ability to produce energy regardless of how much fertilizer you apply as leaves are what photosynthesize not the roots. However, if your turf is healthy and has an ample supply of stored carbohydrates the plant may survive the winter depending upon conditions.
Now how can a frost delay benefit your golf game? Let me explain or even show you....
By delaying play until the frost has melted your golf course can continue to survive and thrive as nature intended. These frost delays actually help your golf game by maintaining the consistent course conditions that your golf facility and superintendents wish to provide to you on a daily basis. Frost in the fall is exceptionally dangerous as the plant must survive all winter on its reserves without a replenishable energy source (photosynthesis). Frost during the spring, although just as detrimental to the plants cell structure, is not as dangerous as the day lengths are getting longer and the plants will be able to possibly recover as they are awakening from dormancy rather that preparing for dormancy. Take a look at the picture below:
This photo above photo was taked at the first tee at Dairy Creek in the fall of 2010. The brown areas showed up in the afternoon after a golfer walked across the tee while waiting for the OK to play during a frost delay. Patience is a virtue. These footprints were reseeded and looked fine in a couple of months. Now, please have a look at the next picture.
The above photo represents the foot traffic from a typical foursome of golfers on a putting green. This photo was taken during a morning of heavy dew and the paper footprints are used to drive the point home. Look at the area around the hole. Now, imagie this picture with brown (dead) footprints just like the first photo above and multiply it by 2, 3, or maybe 10 foursomes! Is this a green you would like to putt on? Now perhaps you don't care because there are other courses in the area to play while this one recovers, but suppose this is your club or your favorite course...wouldn't you be upset that someone couldn't wait to play for a small delay so that YOU could enjoy a true putting surface and better ball roll? Don't true putting surfaces and better ball roll benefit your golf game? There you have it... frost delays benefit your golf game!
Please respect your fellow golfers enjoyment of the game and the golf course itself by following the various signs or rules associated with your next round of golf. As operators we are not trying to add unneccessary regulations to the game, but rather we are trying to protect the assets that we as golfers value for the enjoyment of everyone. Golf course superintendent's can fix nearly every turf problem or situation. It just costs money and as golfer I prefer to keep the cost of golf down without having to perform unnecessary repairs that can be averted with a short delay or courtesy. Please contact me if you have questions or if I can provide any further information.
Golf is a game of honor, tradition, and passion. It is also a source of social interaction and recreation. Have fun when you play your next round and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings while you recreate and socialize with those in your group! Keep swining.
" The greens were so fast I had to hold my putter over the ball and hit it with the shadow."
~ Sam Snead