The Summit Daily reported on the High Country region’s method of preparing golf courses for the season, as they deal with heavy snow and dramatic swings in temperature.
The Frisco, Colo.-based Summit Daily reported this week on the special challenges that maintenance staffs at golf courses in High Country, Colo., the region surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapaho National Forest, face as they prepare for golf season.
Beginning in March, a friendly debate among course superintendents over the best time to clear greens and tee boxes of the still lingering snow begins, the Daily reported.
The same snow that provides High Country residents with epic powder days also brings with it a unique set of benefits, as well as some challenges, for local course managers, said Caleb Kehrwald, General Manager of Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Silverthorne.
On the plus side, snow is a pretty good insulator, Kehrwald said, and when there’s a thick blanket of it, the grass doesn’t shift into dormancy, it can stay green all winter and it may even grow an inch or two. Snow’s insulating qualities also keep ground freeze to a minimum, which reduces the number of potential problems with irrigation, the Daily reported.
However, the combination of snow and sunshine can create a sort of ozone effect on the surface of the turf, said Tom Buzbee, director of golf at Gypsum Creek Golf Club, which creates ideal conditions for snow mold that can have a detrimental effect on course conditions, the Daily reported.
“At 6,300 feet, we don’t have exactly the same concerns about snow mold as courses at the higher elevations in Eagle and Summit counties, but we do what we can to mitigate it because it is the agronomical equivalent of, well, use your imagination,” Buzbee said. “The point is once you have it, once the spores settle into the turf, it’s there forever.”
Fungicides aid in preventing snow mold growth. They come in spray and granular forms and must be applied in the fall before the snow starts flying. In that sense, preparations for the start of the new golf season really begin at the conclusion of the previous one, the Daily reported.
But because fungicide also is expensive, superintendents generally only use it on the most vital sections of the golf course, namely the greens and tee boxes. Last year Buzbee made the decision to apply both spray and granular fungicides to his tee boxes and greens. In hindsight, he lucked out in doing so because modern fungicides come with an expiration date and will only effectively prevent snow mold for a specific number of days, the Daily reported.
“We’re kind of lucky over here on the far side of Eagle County because we have a longer season and we can generally wait until November to put fungicide out,” Buzbee said. “This winter was a nail biter though because I think we set a record with 103 days of consecutive snow cover. It really tested the longevity of the product.”
Although the debate about snow clearing predominantly revolves around fungicide efficacy, David Dean, superintendent at the Raven, said weather also plays a big role in determining when course employees remove snow from tee boxes and greens. Clearing snow while fungicides are still actively preventing snow mold growth is a priority, but a sudden return of winter could shock exposed grass into dormancy, resulting in brown greens and tee boxes at the start of the season, the Daily reported.
A perfect example came last year when Summit County received 25 percent of its total 2013 snow accumulation in the month of April, the Daily reported.
“Last spring was particularly tricky and we probably cleared our greens too early,” Kehrwald said. “There’s a lot of science that goes into the process, whether it’s trying to predict how long the fungicide will last to trying to predict the official start of spring, but at the end of the day you really have to rely on your gut.”
With so many variables to consider, one might think a dry winter would benefit local golf courses. Although less snow often means an earlier start to the season, the lost insulation causes a whole host of other issues, the Daily reported.
Without snow, the ground tends to freeze at deeper levels, causing expensive damage to a course’s irrigation system. Deeper ground freezes also cause grasses to transition into a state of dormancy, and although the surface is exposed to springtime elements, it takes significantly longer for soil temperatures to warm to the point that the grass reactivates itself, the Daily reported.
“Regardless of what the winter brings, you’re always going to face challenges when trying to prepare the course for the season,” Kehrwald said. “I’d take snow every time because it protects the grass and allows it to recover more quickly.
“By June 1, our customers expect us to be caught up with the Front Range in terms of course conditions and quality. That’s always our goal and on average by June 1 we’re ready to go.”