Friday, February 20, 2015

Thoughts Behind An Unpopular Decision!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, February 20th and temperatures are still below freezing.  In fact we established a new record low this morning when the temperature bottomed out at 7 F officially in Charlotte.  Yesterday we established a new record (lowest recorded daytime high temperature) of 26 F as the previous record for February 19 was 32 F.  To put just how cold things currently are in perspective our averages this time of year are 57 F (high) and 34 F (low), and the temperature has now been below freezing in Charlotte approaching 48 hours.
Surface Temp of Nursery Green This AM in Shade
I know right now you're asking what all of this means.  For the first time in a long while we have soil frozen to depths greater than two or three inches, and although air temperatures are expected to finally climb back above the freezing mark tomorrow, soils do not thaw as rapidly.  Just think about how much time it takes to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey each year (several days in the refrigerator).  When soil freezes turf roots become encased in the frozen layer.  As the soil begins to thaw so do the roots, but unfortunately it takes time for soils frozen this deep to thaw completely.  This means there will be a period when thawing is taking place at or near the surface but the soil will remain frozen deeper below.  Thawed turf roots in the upper portion of the root zone are pliable but just an inch or more below the surface those same roots are trapped and encased in the frozen soil.  When this condition exists permanent turf injury can occur as traffic, whether from golf cars, maintenance equipment, maintenance workers, or even golfers suffering from cabin fever desperate to enjoy a few holes can cause irreparable harm as the turf roots become sheared off at the interface between the thawed and frozen layers of soil.  In other words, if we were to permit play during a delicate time like just described the foot traffic alone on the putting surfaces can shear off enough roots leaving our bentgrass weak and shallow rooted as spring approaches.
Surface Temp of Nursery Green This AM in Full Sun
Now, we actually opened the golf course today at noon for a few brave souls and you may be wondering how is that possible when it is so cold outside.  With the entire golf course frozen there is actually very little damage or harm that can occur so long as the exposed leaf tissue is pliable and not rigid.  We evaluate this by visual analysis and other means to determine if the leaf tissue can tolerate play while everything else remains frozen.  Contrary to popular ideas, golf course superintendents and professional turfgrass managers do not like making decisions which restrict or limit access to the golf course and hinder your enjoyment and experience.  However sometimes we are faced with conditions that force us to make unpopular decisions for the sake of the greater good (inconvenience some members trying to squeeze in some winter golf in order all members will have healthy, quality turf to enjoy later in the year).  In a typical North Carolina winter I do not face these types of decisions.  Usually if we get cold enough to freeze the rootzone, it isn't to current depths and thawing occurs without a frozen layer underneath.  Also, extreme freezing conditions such as these are not normally followed by drastic warm-ups as currently being forecast for tomorrow and Sunday.

Which bring us to my dilemma, the ingredients for the scenario I have just described are in place to occur this weekend, and I know many of you would like to play.  Yes, we are all tired of winter and more than ready for spring, but the next two days it may very well be necessary to refrain from using the golf course in order we may all enjoy healthier conditions when spring arrives.  My staff and I are closely monitoring the weather and trying our level best to assess and evaluate course conditions.  Stay tuned to the club for Twitter updates and feel free to contact the Golf Shop, as they will be my voice to you as we determine whether or not it is safe to use and enjoy the golf facilities this weekend in some capacity.  Please know I do not make such decisions in haste and without careful thought and consideration.  You have entrusted me to care for your golf course and to use my knowledge, skills, and practical experience to preserve, protect, and nurture your golf course for your year-round enjoyment.  If closing one or both days this weekend should become necessary I sincerely hope you know your patience and restraint will pay big dividends down the road.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation!

Stay tuned,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS

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