Are frost delays a thing of the past on unsupervised Bermuda fairways?

Are frost delays a thing of the past on unsupervised Bermuda fairways?

In many parts of the Southwest, courses may spend $1 million or more on their annual water bill, and it is not uncommon for regulators to impose water restrictions of 40% or more depending on water storage concerns and location. In response to these challenges, some golf courses have had to make difficult decisions about water use. Giving up overwatering is a sure way to save water without increasing costs or undergoing an expensive course renovation. As the number of courses eliminating excess supervision continues to increase, a question has arisen about golfer and cart traffic during the winter months. Specifically, should courses impose frost delays on non-passing lanes?

The answer to this question is more difficult than it seems. Golfers may think, “It's dormant Bermuda grass, what's wrong with that, let's go play golf!” To some extent, this perception is correct. When Bermuda grass is dormant, golf cart movement during frost conditions will likely cause no more damage than it does in non-frost conditions. However, if the Bermuda grass is not fully dormant, will golf carts cause more damage during cold mornings? Maybe, but the difference will be minimal.

With that in mind, we return to the original question: Should non-passing courses enforce frost delays? Any golfer or focused maintenance movement will damage the bermudagrass, especially during the fall, winter and early spring when bermudagrass grows slowly, if at all. Therefore, restricting golf carts to trails or off-road trails will only help keep Bermuda grass on the fairways. If courses are able to block traffic during frost, this means less damage overall. In addition, severe frost can cause slippery conditions and navigating the trail on foot or in a vehicle can be difficult and dangerous. Enforcing frost delays is a good policy for conditioning golf courses and also safer for golfers.

However, for some courses, the potential lost revenue due to delaying play or limiting golf cart access may outweigh the benefits to course conditions of imposing frost delays. Each course may handle the situation a little differently. In a recent informal survey of courses that do not supervise the fairways, some place a premium on filling out a tee sheet and do not enforce any type of tee time delay under frost, while others continue to enforce a frost delay policy as they did when they were overstaying. Some use a hybrid approach, with no walking restrictions on golfers and carts limited to rough-and-tumble activities when in the cold. In another example, if the frost delay is longer than one hour, the course will implement a gun start for the first few holes as soon as the frost lifts.

The overall message is that any type of concentrated traffic on slow-growing or dormant bermudagrass will cause damage and there will not be a significant recovery until early spring when day length and soil temperatures increase. It will be up to each course to weigh the consequences of traffic on uncrossed Bermuda grass against the importance of filling the tee sheet.

Agricultural engineers in the Western region:

Brian Whitlark, Regional Director – bwhitlark@usga.org

Corey Isom, Agronomist – cisom@usga.org

Information about the USGA's Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Department staff

    (Marks for translation) Volume 61 (R) Issue 23 (R) Traffic Department (R) Green Section Record Article (R) Training Course Sponsorship (R) Western Regional Update

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