Friday, October 3, 2014

USGA - Winter Preparation for Greens

WINTER PREPARATION IN FULL FORCE

By Adam Moeller, agronomist, Northeast Region
October 1, 2014

Not only is creeping bentgrass a stronger species when tough winter weather occurs, it is a much stronger species during the summer. A deeper root system is one of the main benefits of creeping bentgrass compared to annual bluegrass.
As golfers enjoy the nice fall weather, golf course maintenance staffs throughout the Northeast Region are well underway with winter preparations. Severe winter injury occurred last year and many golf courses are doing as much as they can now to prevent similar damage. TheGreen Section Recordarticle Winter Damage by USGA agronomist Keith Happ is an excellent reference for information on why putting greens experience injury and how to best limit future problems. Several common factors contributed to winter injury at golf courses this past year including:
  1. Damage was almost completely on cold-susceptible annual bluegrass (i.e. Poa annua). Minimal damage occurred on creeping bentgrass.
  2. Putting greens with limited surface drainage and/or areas where surrounding slopes funnel water onto putting greens were the most heavily damaged.
  3. Damage was the most severe in drainage paths.
  4. Shaded putting greens experienced the most turf loss from winter injury.
  5. Putting greens maintained at low cutting heights in the fall and late fall were more commonly and severely injured.
Given the common factors involved in the damage, many courses are trying to focus on the controllable variables listed above. For instance, many courses have already begun gradually raising their cutting heights on putting greens. There are many factors that impact ball roll and green speed, and cutting height is certainly a major factor. However, the turf grows slower in the fall so this should offset most changes in green speed. Many courses learned the hard way last year that ultra-fast green speed throughout the fall does have serious consequences when harsh winter weather develops.
Tree removal to increase sun exposure is always beneficial to the turf, especially where significant shade exists. Tree removals are often controversial, so many courses wait until late fall to cut trees down to minimize the controversy. Unfortunately, removing trees in November will not help the turf prepare for this winter so immediate action may be necessary. Trees can make for nice features on golf courses, but when they create shade on putting greens they should be removed. This is particularly true for creeping bentgrass greens.
A few courses have even decided to rebuild or resurface their putting greens to avoid a repeat of the severe damage observed this year. While better surface drainage and a completeconversion to creeping bentgrass does not completely eliminate the potential for winter injury, these steps constitute the best insurance policy possible. 
Source: Adam Moeller (amoeller@usga.org)
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