November 20th was the first frost we have seen this year on the golf course. It was 27 degrees in the morning and 72 degrees in the afternoon. Gotta love Texas weather!
Some people may wonder why frost causes delays on the golf course. To understand this we can take a look at some of the science behind frost and turf.
Frost is basically frozen dew that has crystallized on the grass, making it hard and brittle. A grass blade is actually 90 percent water, therefore it also freezes. Because of the short mowing height (sometimes as low as 1/8 inch) and fragile nature of the turf, putting greens are most affected by frost. Walking on frost-covered greens causes the plant to break and cell walls to rupture, thereby losing its ability to function normally. When the membrane is broken, much like an egg, it cannot be put back together.
Ignoring frost will not produce immediate, visible damage. Generally, the damage becomes visible 48-72 hours later as the plant leaves turn brown and die. The result is a thinning of the putting surface and a weakening of the turf which makes it more susceptible to disease. While it may not appear to be much of an issue if a foursome begins play early on frost covered greens, consider the number of footprints that may occur on any given hole by one person is approximately 60. Multiply that by 18 holes with an average of 100 rounds per day and the result is 108,000 footprints on greens in a day or 3,240,000 footprints in a month.
As golf enthusiasts, superintendents do not like to delay play, but their primary concern must focus on the health of the turf and the quality of course conditions for the golfer. Frost also creates a hardship on a golf facility’s staff as all course preparations are put to a halt until thawing occurs. Golf carts can cause considerable damage, therefore personnel cannot maneuver around the course to mow, change cup positions, collect range balls, etc.
One technique employed to reduce possible frost damage is to raise the cutting height of mowers to create a hardier surface. It may also be possible to reroute play to holes where the frost melts more quickly. Still, the best solution is for all to understand the hows and whys of the delay and in turn gain a greater appreciation for the golf course.
A good tip would be to give the course a phone call before heading out to play to see if tee times have been pushed back due to frost.