First, AGCS Justin Hemauer has put a fresh groom on the winter trails yesterday, and they’re set up really well. I’m not sure how many more grooms we have left this season so I recommend you take advantage of a nice week before the “big melt” looks to start next week.
Obviously we’ve had a lot of snow this winter. A LOT. They’ve been keeping snow fall data for 139 years, and as of today, we find ourselves as the 8th snowiest winter on record, and with more snow coming this week, we’ll more than likely be scratching at a top 5 snowiest winter ever. (Good year to be a snowbird!) All of this snow has kept us more than busy – we’re literally running out of room storing it, and we’re getting tired of what feels like a constant full-time job of plowing and shoveling.
As far as what that means for the golf course. There’s positives and (potential) negatives with all this snow. Snow is always the best insulator/protector of winter weather. An early snowfall in November has done a few things. First, it prevented a deep frost from setting in. This is a positive in that once all of this snow starts to melt, it should go into the ground quickly, as officially, there’s only a few inches of frost which will break quickly, preventing standing water, which is a big negative. Also, having a consistent coverage of snow has protected the turf from dangerously cold temperatures that we’ve experienced this winter.
Unfortunately we’ve also had several rain and warm-up events, creating a lot of water, the 1+” rainfall we received the second week of February being the largest threat. With having 12++” of snow on the ground, it’s acted as a good buffer, for the most part, preventing the water from reaching the turf surface. The result is several layers of ice suspended within the snow pack with very little at the turf surface. Ice is the largest threat to winter survival for turf, specifically Poa Annua, which has a very weak natural defense mechanism.
Overall, we don’t have any known imminent threat of damage. The threat is always there, but the 80+” of snow we’ve received has been a positive for us, preventing significant ice formation at the surface/s. Managing the situation now, our next measure is to assist the melt as it occurs over the next few weeks. The sun is getting stronger daily, and melt is occurring even when temperatures are below freezing. Expediting all of that water movement off of the turf surfaces is key. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been busy shoveling channels in fronts of greens, and around all of our drainage inlets to get that water into the rough, and into said inlets, as quick as possible. With snow drifts on the golf course of over 4′ in several areas, this has been no easy task.
Deep-tine holes awaiting to work once the melt picks up pace
A close up of the green surface shows water already moving under the snow and above the topdressing layer that was applied in November
Trekking the property on foot as the snow is too deep for vehicles
Every green now has shoveled channels in approaches, to catch the snow melt, and carry it off green surfaces as quick as possible
Where there is a drainage inlet, the channel will direct the water to them, eliminating any pooling over frozen ground
Overall, we’re in a solid position, and all of this snow has been more of positive than a negative in many ways. We’ve spent the past decade+ refining our cultural plans, turfgrass conversion initiatives from Poa Annua to Bentgrass, and our winter topdressing/deep-tining/cover plan. It’s not a guaranteed plan, as winters in MN are never the same, and we are always at the whims of the weather, but it gives us the best opportunity for success. There’s no single bigger uncontrollable threat to the bottom line of a club than winter damage, hence why we don’t cut corners with our winter preparations, sacrificing getting things properly set, for those last few days of golf in November. Midland’s club leadership has set the tone for investing in the proper tools, time, and philosophies (removing shade) to set us up for success, more often than not. I start thinking about setting the golf course turf up for success (promoting a solid turf dormancy environment) to survive winter before October even arrives, and our management philosophies shift to giving us the best chances of survival, in preparation for the following year.
One obvious negative is that we have a lot of snow to melt before the 2023 season will kick off. With very little frost in the ground, I think it will happen quickly. The question everyone asks is “When will the golf course open?” The average opening date is ~April 12th. If I could predict the future, I wouldn’t be a golf course superintendent….! It’s too early to say if we’ll find ourselves before or after that “average” date. If you’re itching to play golf late March/early April, I’d recommend a road trip down 35W South, as most of Iowa doesn’t have snow, and is expecting an early opening. Hopefully our golf simulators will ease that itch, and if you haven’t been using them this winter, now is a good time to get into “golf shape” and give them a try!
We’ll be monitoring the golf course conditions daily, and adapting our game plan accordingly. We’re fortunate our team is up to whatever Mother Nature throws our way, knowing that the next 30 days can be critical for a successful season. Communication will be sent out as we get closer to opening with updates on turf conditions, removing our winter protection covers, snow fencing, sandbags, stakes/ropes, etc., as well as an eventual opening day.
Stay patient as we thaw out!