Monday, March 17, 2014

Winter of 2014: The good, the bad and the ugly!

The past few months the local news has been focusing on the harsh winter of 2014.  To date, 2014 is already the coldest winter on record (for the Green Bay area) and with snow totals that keep piling up it may end up as the snowiest.  This has many members wondering what this weather means for Ridgeway and the spring just ahead.  While the outlook is uncertain at this point I will try to help you understand the possible scenarios that lay ahead.

#11 on 3/17/14

The Good

One good sign this winter is the deep frost which so far has kept the turf dormant.  The turfgrass plants had ample time to harden off before the heavy snows came in mid-December which means they became "conditioned" for the winter ahead. 

Another good sign was the relative lack of ice on the property.   In past seasons ice has been present for extended periods of time throughout winter.  Ice can cause damage to turf if it is present for extended periods but ice damage does not appear to be a problem this winter.

Finally our bentgrass populations have greatly increased in the past 3 seasons which ultimately means less winterkill.  Poa annua is a very weak plant that struggles to survive harsh winter conditions. Bentgrass on the other hand is very tolerant of cold weather, ice and large fluctuations in temperature.  For instance, our winter kill last season would have been catastrophic if we had the Poa populations prior to 2011.  Poa is a huge liability and is the reason we are trying to reduce its population at Ridgeway.  If damage does occur, it will pale in comparison to past seasons.

The Bad

Winter is not over and winterkill scenarios are more likely in the remaining weeks.  With all of the snow and deep frost, water will soon engulf the property.  Melting snow will cause water to pool up in areas which can be bad if we get large fluctuations in temperature.  Crown hydration can occur when warm weather and melting snow/water cause Poa to break dormancy.  If Poa breaks dormancy any extreme drop in temperatures can cause death to occur.

With long harsh winters most of the turfgrass plants carbohydrate reserves are depleted and Poa plants are very weak.  University studies have shown that Poa's cold hardiness can be 20 degrees F at the end of winter.  So any extended drop in temperature to exposed Poa can cause damage.

We will monitor the melt but there is little we can do other than make sure drainage grates on the property are clear so water can move effectively.

The Ugly

The ugly truth is no superintendent can predict how a golf course will survive coming out of winters like 2014's. So far we have some good signs but unfortunately winter is not over and how the course melts may ultimately determine its fate.  We cannot predict the weather or change it, so in the end all we can do is deal with its consequences. 

One thing I can say is the progress we have made promoting bentgrass is something that will help minimize the amount of damage that "may" occur.  Poa is our greatest liability at Ridgeway and keeping it to a minimum is important so that winterkill scenarios are kept to a minimum.  If our greens, tees and fairways were 100% bentgrass there would be no reason for concern of winterkill at this point.  That being said we still have some Poa and because of that we have a liability that hinges solely on the weather at this point.

Lets hope for nice steady melt and a speedy start to the 2014 golf season!
Taken 2/21/14 from #12 green