Winter Kills - And Stinks
By Torleif Sorenson on 5/7/14

People (golfers, especially) in the northern United States and Canada have lived through the coldest and longest winter in some 35 years. Unfortunately, many golf course greens did not. As reported by Robert Thompson, a publications editor for the PGA of Canada, golf course superintendents across the Great White North have had a problem this spring:

Dead poa annua.

Owen Russell, the super at Markland Wood Golf Club outside Toronto, ventured out to one of his greens in February to drill through the ice and snow, to check on the state of his greens. Bad news.
"I knew from the smell that we had a problem. It smelled bad, sort of like rotten eggs.

"There was nothing we could do. If we cleared them, the temperatures were so cold we may have created more problems. It was a mess."
Specifically, many poa annua greens were wracked by as many as four problems:
  1. Crown hydration: Grass takes in water and moisture, then get hit with a sudden freeze;

  2. Winter desiccation: Dehydration of higher ground;

  3. Anoxia: Greens and grounds suffer from oxygen deprivation; and

  4. Ice.

By now, you're probably wondering if there isn't a more reliable strain of grass that could be used. There is: Bent grass. It requires less water and chemical inputs, and obviously creates a better playing surface.

However, bent is expensive and it requires more grow-in time. And given that winter has already delayed the start of golf season by as much as a month in some places, course owners and managers are already without income from lost greens fees due to the long winter.

Supers at private clubs, like Russell at Markland Wood, have less of a problem preparing for bent sod to replace their poa annua. But for his counterparts at public courses, the decision is obviously not so simple: If golfers aren't able to get on a given course by June, they might not come back at all during the year. Still, people like Russell say that the only ultimate solution is the best:
"It has been like putting a puzzle together and every time you think you have it right, a bully comes and wrecks it. If we are going to spend money every year to fix this, we should do it once and spend it on bent grass. It is the only solution."

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Image via Golf Canada

[ comments ]
legitimatebeef says:
I'm not sure if it's entirely winter's fault. Spring has been colder than average, every day it seems like. Winter is a dormant time anyways, and we've had longer snowier winters, not even that long ago. I blame this lousy spring weather.
joe jones says:
Poa annua can be a wonderful grass but can be effected by climate changes of any kind.Bent grass in northern climes can be a solution but also has negatives. Mainly a shorter growing season and very high costs of water and an increased cost of labor for maintenance.Now that I live in the land of Bermuda in the summer and over seeding with winter rye I am not familiar with some of the new strains that are available. I have heard about Paspalum grasses but don't know if they would adapt to northern courses. Any comments?
Matt McGee says:
It's hard not to complain about the greens when they're like this, but two years ago it rained incessantly until the middle of June. Better to have nasty greens than not be able to golf at all.
Most of the public courses in this area have sort of a "calico" look to them. Several different types of grass on the greens? It all seems to grow & roll the same.
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