Whether you strolled the fairways of some of the most exclusive private clubs in the Triad area, or were just a weekend warrior, you have no doubt seen it. The spray painted white lines that marked off “Ground under Repair,” par-4 holes turned into par 3s, the bare patches on what normally was green, lush grass.
“What was going on here?” you might have asked yourself as you dropped one club length from the markings.
Winter Kill – bring the two words up to any golf course superintendent and watch his or her shoulders clench.
The Triad got hit badly this winter, there is no doubting that. But, what efforts were made to combat this situation and how can courses prevent it from happening in the future?
Kevin Smith, director of agronomy for Pinnacle Golf Management Co., responsible for the upkeep of Bryan Park, Stony Creek, Meadowlands and The Challenge, said it about as simple as possible: “Science can’t beat Mother Nature.”
This is a story with a happy ending, however. Pinnacle has brought back its golf courses to prime shape after what was a brutal winter — and what was called a “perfect storm” on the day of March 29.
Pinnacle Golf president David Taylor explains the problem in more detail. “Most of the grass on our local golf courses consists primarily of Bermuda. That’s primarily why the courses don’t look like Augusta National — where they overseed with rye every fall, to give it that lush, green appearance. That involves a lot of upkeep and financial resources.”
But, for even above-average golf course operating companies like Pinnacle, that luxury is not available. Hence, the weather and other external factors play an important role in the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds.
“There’s really a different number of factors involved in what we call winter kill and they can relate to poor drainage, shade and excessive wear,” Smith said. “It would be rare for the grass to die due to low temperatures alone. It’s usually a combination of factors.”
Taylor alluded to what many superintendents refer to a specific date this year for some reason. “There was a low temperature event overnight on Saturday March the 29th [for the record, it plunged to 26 that night after a few weeks of balmy temperature]. The Bermuda grass is most impervious to injury during the last stages of winter and early spring. It’s trying to “green up” and is at that point pushing through what little energy reserve it has at the end of the growing season. So, hit a low temperature of 26 degrees and that was what really affected the grass. It really was kind of a culmination of cold winters and summers that really weren’t conducive to the growth of Bermuda grass. So, it was really a kind of ‘perfect storm’ that hit us where the grass was very susceptible to injury and the late March temperature really seemed to suck up the green of the grass and left us with bare patches.”
Well, superintendents and their staff went into overdrive and tried to save what they could, but the damage, as the saying goes, was already done.
Smith says that recovery was a widespread effort and the superintendents were pulling out all the stops on the Pinnacle properties across the Triad.
“One thing we did was remove a plug of healthy grass and place it in with the damaged soil,” Smith said. “We monitored the turf, almost like a house plant, and after a few weeks we determined if the turf was receptive to the healthy grass. We then moved forward and tried to re-sprig or re-sod the area. All this while keeping the ground under repair, of course.”
That’s one way to evaluate the condition of the turf. Smith said another is to “evaluate the turf simply through observation on the field and what is called the stolons, which are the part of the Bermuda under the surface of the turf that kind of creep laterally, so we look at the color and the overall health of the grass. If they are white, and they snap when we break them. That means the plant will have good viability and last throughout the spring, but if it’s black and limp, that is a bad sign and means most likely the potential for sodding and sprig installation.”
That means more money and manpower.
Looking into the future, Taylor says that Bryan Park took the attitude that it didn’t want to simply restore the course, but wanted to make it better than before.
“We took the mantra of ‘adversity creates opportunity,’ and went to it with that mindset,” Taylor said. “Once we realized the enormity of the injury, of course we did a lot of cultivation activities where we took machines out and make the best effort to relieve compaction and tried to encourage whatever viable grass was there to recover. That was the first step, and in some cases there was quite a bit.”
But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case throughout all Pinnacle properties and steps had to be taken to use aeration and unplayable lies to protect the turf and give the grass some room.
The company hired a contractor from South Carolina to come up and use a machine to physically replant the fairways with sprigs, which are basically cartons of the Burmuda grass in disk shapes which are supposed to accelerate the soil surface. Superintendents then used a compost product over the springs that helped retain moisture and a suitable growing environment, according to Pinnacle.
The company keeps an optimistic outlook on the future of its courses for next year and will keep its fingers crossed for a mild North Carolina winter.
And, watch out for March 29.