We were golfing on regular greens in late January of last year before a short blast of winter hit. This year has been an interesting one to say the least, as are most Central Oregon Winters. We have had a mixed bag of weather that can make a superintendent lose sleep. In an ideal world, you have a wet fall, then get cold to help the turf go dormant, followed by a nice blanket of snow with no major temperature fluctuations until mid February. Realistically, that never happens!
This fall started extremely dry until we received some rain just after Thanksgiving. December was up and down with light rain, snow and sun at times. It was just frozen enough to keep golf to a minimum. Then on Christmas Eve, we received mixed precipitation on frozen greens followed by a light snowfall. This scenario set us up with an ice layer on the greens. To give you an idea of what that means to me and the golf course, read on …
Our greens are a mix of Poa annua (Annual Bluegrass) and Agrostis palustris (Creeping Bentgrass). Poa is more sensitive than bentgrass to suffocating ice and the freeze/thaw cycles of saturated soils. Usually after 45 days, you start to worry about what is happening under that ice. Because ice is not permeable, anaerobic conditions develop and prevent air exchange, much different than a nice blanket of snow provides. Although dormant, turf still needs oxygen during the winter months to survive.
I always say that ice on greens before the first of the year can be a potential problem and that is exactly what happened this winter. Another contributing factor to the ice and snow issue is our large stand of Ponderosa Pines. Although a beautiful and key component to our golf course, they create deep shade that prevents snow and ice from melting, even on a 50-degree day. Our older greens also have become somewhat bowl shaped from years of topdressing with sand. The collar around the greens have become higher than the green surface. This is known as a collar dam and is a common issue that many older courses face. As snow melts, these collar dams slow or prevent the flow of water off the frozen green surface, causing the ice to build over cycles of freezing and thawing.
Even though some would say that it has been a mild winter, it has come with a variety of precipitation and temperature scenarios that have been a setup for ice. Over the past few weeks, we have seen many greens melt naturally, which is the ideal process, versus physically removing ice and shocking the turf as temperatures drop at night. Other greens have been going through the freeze/thaw cycle with a slow melt of the ice. Soil temperatures (rather than air temperatures) play a huge role in this process. We see greens refreeze even when air temperatures don’t drop below freezing.
As I write this update, we are approaching 5 weeks of these conditions. Mother Nature is providing us a late January break with an extended stretch of warm days that has allowed us to remove snow on a handful of greens. We then spread a dried, black sand that works with the sun to melt the ice more efficiently. This will allow us to get the saturated greens to get air, dry out and hopefully prevent any major damage.
You might find all that a bit boring, but I hope this helps educate you on what we deal with during the winter months. It can be a challenging and difficult decision-making time for a superintendent. Our golf course has many different microclimates that you may not see as you look out from the clubhouse and see mostly uncovered turf. The greens are the gem of our club and we do everything in our power to keep them that way.
As we move forward, tree management to improve shade around greens and lowering of collar dams to improve surface drainage will be a never-ending project. Tough decisions need to be made at times but are always carefully considered as we continually work to improve our course conditions.
I hope you are all enjoying the off-season from golf in Bend and look forward to an exciting and busy year for this great club as we enter a time of much improved financial stability. I am proud to be part of the management team and Bend Golf Club.
Thanks for your support and see you on the course soon!