One of our winter chores is to assess the conditions on the golf course and how they will impact turf survival. This task requires myself and Mark to put on snowshoes and hike around the course. We bring a shovel to see how deep the snow pack is and to see if any ice has formed. This tour of the course is done every few weeks or after a winter rain or thaw event.
Looking at snow and ice depth on Jan. 25th on 2nd green
There are four main causes of turf loss due to winter conditions; extended ice cover, snow mold fungus, the freeze/thaw cycle, and wind burn. In this post, I'll discuss ice damage which is caused by extended ice cover. The other causes I'll discuss in future posts. Extended ice cover can cause major damage. If turf is under ice for more than 60-75 days there is a potential for damage. Different species of turfgrass can tolerate ice cover better than others. Creeping bentgrass, our dominant species of turf was chosen for it's tolerance for these conditions. Bentgrasses have the potential to survive 90 days under ice.

Ice on 12 green Feb. 18th
Why does extended ice cover kill grass? Good question. University studies have shown that a process called "anoxia" occurs. Anoxia is the lack of oxygen. During the winter months the turf is dormant (or not actively growing). However, the turf is still alive and is respiring. Respiration is the process of creating food for survival. Respiration is low but still active. This lack of oxygen makes respiration difficult and the plant simply dies due to starvation. The depletion of oxygen also leads to the build up of carbon dioxide (CO2). Even though plants need CO2, an excess can be toxic and lead to death. When anoxia has occurred there is usually a strong odor present when the ice has finally melted.

Where are we today? Well, we have ice. On January 31st, a one inch rain/ice event occurred with snow on the ground. This rain event was followed by temperatures in the teens. The snow on the ground slowed the movement of water and subsequently ice was formed in the low areas and on various bowl shaped greens. The good news is that the rain/ice event happened late into the winter and the duration of ice cover will most likely be short enough for the bentgrass to survive. The month of March is always the deal breaker. At what time the winter breaks in the month of March is the question. An extended wintry March can make winter survival for golf course turf a bit tricky. Every winter has its challenges. Touring the course during the winter and accessing the conditions prepares us for these challenges . Being prepared to act accordingly in March often determines the turf health for first half of the golf season.