Brutal Winter Wreaks Havoc On Greens

By Chad Armell
Hidden Meadows Golf Course

Welcome all to my first Hidden Meadows blog entry! Let me introduce myself to anyone who does not know me, I’m Chad Armell and I have been the superintendent here at Hidden Meadows for the past seven years. Periodically throughout this year I will be writing in this forum to keep you golfers informed of the ins and outs of the maintenance side of Hidden Meadows. I will give you the basics of the topics at hand and a few details of whats happening all while trying not to bore you too much!

This first entry will be about what happened to our greens over the winter; and my next entry will be telling you how I’m going to fix them!

This past winter here at Hidden Meadows was unlike any other I have seen here in the past eight. We had feet of snow, brutally cold temperatures, rain, a January thaw, and an ice storm. Those conditions are not too abnormal for this area, but what was very abnormal was how cold March was. Most years the greens are clear of snow by the end of March, and we even opened one year on the last day of March, but this year we still had an average snow pack of two feet or greater on March 31st.

The first snow of the winter fell in early December and it stayed until the middle of April this spring. The turf was covered in frozen precipitant for around 120 days this winter, which is 30 to 40 days more than average. With that being said, now we add in the rain, the ice storm, and the January thaw and you get an Ice layer that has built up on the bottom of the snow pack. If our January thaw would have been a few days longer, and all the snow and ice melted away we would not have the dead turf problems that we are having now. With all of the freeze and thaw cycles we had this past winter it created a thick layer of ice over every low spot we have on the golf course. I measured some spots at five inches thick and all of the greens had at least three inches on them.

This photo was taken on the third green two days after it was cleared of snow. My Leatherman is four inches long, so we have three inches of ice left after two days of melting.

To be captain obvious here, grass is a living being, and it needs to be able to breath! You may be asking yourself its the middle of the winter isn’t grass dormant then? Yes it is, but it still has some cellular activity that has to exchange gasses. If the plant is unable to take in carbon dioxide, the catalyst for cellular activity, it will suffocate, and due to the thick layer of ice this past winter that gas exchange process was unable to occur.

When turf suffocates its called Anoxia and that rotten gas stinks! Its called the “smell of death” in this business and it will turn your stomach quicker than Juniper Ridge on a hot summer day. I started digging holes in the snowpack in early March searching for this smell and at that time no odor was detected on any of our greens. Three weeks later after another foot of snow fell, I went out again and detected this rotten death smell on several greens, and that forced us to start clearing the snow off our greens with our tractor.

On April 2nd we started clearing snow off our greens, it took a total of three days to clear the snow off all of them, and another three days to get all of the ice off the greens.

Putting our 4 ton tractor on our greens was a little scary, but with the depth of the ice we didn’t even leave a scratch!

Turf is pretty resilient, bent grass as proven to stay alive under ice cover for up to 75 days, but annual bluegrass is not so hardy and can only live for 40 to 50 days under ice. I’m telling you this because these are our two prominent turf species on our greens and as I said earlier we had ice cover for more than 90 days this winter which is just too long a duration for any type of fine turf to withstand.

In summary the combination of rain, January thaw, and the duration of freezing weather in March was what created and allowed the ice to build up on our greens, ultimately killing them through suffacation.

My next entry will focus on how we will bring these greens back to life, so until then keep fixing your ball marks and replacing your divots!

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