Understanding frost delays
Presented by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America
As winter starts to give way to spring-like temperatures, the desire to hit the
golf course intensifies. It also signals a change in golf course management activities
that can affect one's game and the conditions found on the course.
In many regions of the country, golfers occasionally face frost delays in the spring,
thus pushing back starting tee times. When frost is present golf course superintendents
delay play until the frost has melted. This is done to prevent damage that affects
the quality of the playing surface and could potentially be very expensive to repair.
Frost is basically frozen dew that has crystallized on the grass, making it hard
and brittle. A grass blade is actually 90 percent water, therefore it also freezes.
Because of the short mowing height (sometimes as low as 1/8 inch) and fragile nature
of the turf, putting greens are most affected by frost. Walking on frost-covered
greens causes the plant to break and cell walls to rupture, thereby losing its ability
to function normally. When the membrane is broken, much like an egg, it cannot be
put back together.
Golfers who ignore frost delays will not see immediate damage. The proof generally
comes 48-72 hours later as the plant leaves turn brown and die. The result is a
thinning of the putting surface and a weakening of the plant. The greens in turn
become more susceptible to disease and weeds. While it may not appear to be much
of an issue if a foursome begins play early on frost covered greens, consider the
number of footprints that may occur on any given hole by one person is approximately
60. Multiply that by 18 holes with an average of 200 rounds per day and the result
is 216,000 footprints on greens in a day or 6,480,000 in a month.
As golf enthusiasts superintendents do not like to delay play, but they are more
concerned about turf damage and the quality if conditions for the golfer. Frost
also creates a hardship on a golf facility's staff as all course preparations are
put to a halt until thawing occurs. Golf carts can cause considerable damage, therefore
personnel cannot maneuver around the course to mow, change cup positions, collect
range balls, etc.
One technique employed to reduce possible frost damage is to raise the cutting height
of mowers to create a hardier surface. It may also be possible to reroute play to
holes where the frost melts more quickly. But regardless of these methods, the best
medicine is for all to understand the hows and whys of the delay and in turn gain
a greater appreciation for the golf course. It would also be wise to give the course
a phone call before heading out to play to see if tee times have been pushed back
due to frost.
For more information regarding golf course maintenance and etiquette, contact your
local superintendent or the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America at
800-472-7878 or www.gcsaa.org.