Most courses across the north central tier of states have already applied fungicides to prevent snow mold and put the irrigation systems to bed for the winter. The next and, perhaps, last major decision to make before the snow flies is whether or not to cover the greens.
To say the performance of green covers has been inconsistent in the past would be an understatement for courses throughout the North-Central Region. Sometimes they provide excellent protection from winter injury and sometimes considerable turf injury occurs beneath the cover. They tend to provide the least consistent protection from damage associated with rapid thaw/freeze cycles that occur during the winter. Granted, cover technology has improved in past years and, under many circumstances, a properly installed cover can increase the odds of winter turf survival, but they are still far from being a panacea for preventing all forms of winterkill.
On the other hand, covers can be a good investment for greens located in exposed sites on the course that have a history of winter injury from wind desiccation. In fact, just about any type of geotextile fabric cover can break the wind and provide a similar level of protection as a snow fence.
Severe damage from desiccation can devastate old and new greens because the injury occurs to both bentgrass and Poa annua. To make matters worse, a pure bentgrass green damaged by desiccation will be very slow to recover in spring because bentgrass requires several consecutive days of warm temperatures, accompanied by mild nights, before the turf begins to grow vigorously. These weather conditions didn’t occur across some areas of the Region until August last summer, so winter damage to bentgrass greens was a season-long ordeal for several unfortunate courses. New golf courses and courses that re-grass old Poa greens to bentgrass are advised to take this form of winter injury seriously.
Of course, covering a green located in an elevated, exposed site is never an easy task. By definition, an exposed site will have little, if any, consistent snow cover and be subjected to strong winds. Wind + Cover = Sail, and no one wants to see that $1000 or more investment sailing across the golf course just when you need it most.
Securing a cover to the perimeter of an exposed green can be a challenge and standard turf staples are not always up to the task. A strong, sustained wind has the uncanny ability to find and exploit any gap or pucker of fabric between staples.
Some courses have had success using a ring of sand bags along the entire perimeter of the cover to keep the fabric in place, but this can really be a labor intensive operation if more than a few greens require protection. Perhaps a combination of both sand bags and staples are the best option where winter protection from wind is an absolute necessity.
The bottom line is that a few days of work spent during November to protect a green from desiccation are far less stressful than the weeks or months of time spent during the spring trying to accelerate the rate of turf recovery on a damaged green.
Until next month, here’s wishing everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.
Source: Bob Vavrek, firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-797-8743