January 12, 2013

Worst Case Scenario

Everyone has a different idea of what their own "worst case scenario" would be.  For me, at least during the winter, it is very simple:  rain.  Doesn't sound too bad right?  Well, for my local readers that have seen how glazed over the roads are here right now, areas on our golf course are buried under that same layer of ice.

Starting the week we had a decent, albeit thin, layer of snow on the golf course, generally about 4 or 5 inches.  The snow was nice and soft all the way down onto a frozen turf surface.  Just the way I like it.  That all changed dramatically on Thursday when the high temperature skyrocketed into the 40s, melting some of that snow down into about an inch or two of slush.  And then, January in North Dakota threw a curve ball when it rained that evening.  All of the water from the half melted snow, plus the rain, instantly ran down onto the frozen turf surface with nowhere to drain, and when the temps dropped through the night back into the teens, ice formed instantly.

The greens are of course my biggest concern, although there will definitely be some low lying areas in some fairways that puddled some water and froze.  The greens however, with their high percentage of Poa Annua, struggle as it is to make it through a brutal winter here.  Add a layer of ice on top of the plants, and death is almost certain.  Ice essentially suffocates the turf.  Toxic gases, including ethylene and cyanide, are trapped under the ice, and worse yet, oxygen is not allowed to get down to the grass.

A general industry standard is that Poa can survive 30-50 days under ice, anything beyond that and plants are starting to die.  Bentgrass and kentucky bluegrass, much stronger plants, are usually safe for close to 100 days or more entrapped in ice.  Like with most stressful conditions, the Poa will die first.

Add on top of this our recent blizzard, which brought very little in the way of insulating snow (maybe only 2 or 3 inches stripped and drifted by 50 mph winds) and instead is providing our now naked or ice buried turf with some lovely -30 windchills.  We started off this winter pretty well with some good snowcover, but our likelihood of having a quick spring green up just took a jump off a cliff in the last few days.

Our only hope at this point is that we will catch a decent warm spell (a few days in the 40s) sometime by the middle of February so that Andy and I can have a chance to go out and physically remove some of the ice from the greens as it melts and softens just a little bit.  Brutal work to say the least, but that is the only chance those ice buried areas will have for survival.  If it stays cold and frozen all the way through mid March however, which is probably the norm, things are going to be pretty ugly....

We started the week with the course looking like this.  Perfect.

Ice on 18 green.  The water literally froze in sheets as it tried to slowly drain
off the green as the temperature dropped rapidly that night.
A 25 year old settled irrigation trench on 9 tee is now a death trap for this poor grass....

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