Central: The Effects of a Mild Winter March 21, 2016 By Bob Vavrek, USGA

Golfers may notice a bumper crop of Poa annua seedheads on greens and fairways this spring. (USGA)

It was no surprise that a strong El Niño effect resulted in a relatively mild and uneventful winter throughout the Central Region, with the exception of isolated flooding associated with heavy rainfall. What does the mild winter mean for golfers as they visit their favorite facility this spring?

Northern States:

The good news is there will not be many greens suffering from winter damage, a welcome change for golf facilities that struggled following the past few winters. The bad news is that mild temperatures during late winter make it very difficult to control Poa annua seedhead development. As a result, golfers may notice that greens are a bit slower and bumpier than what they will experience later in the season.

Turf growth in general should be vigorous this spring, with greater density and a need for more mowing. Weeds will also be vigorously growing, often getting started before turfgrasses. Dandelions could be particularly troublesome to control if the unusually warm weather reverts to a normal pattern of cooler temperatures.

Southern states:

Warm-season grasses are breaking dormancy earlier than usual in the transition zone, and some facilities in Texas report that their turf was never totally dormant this winter. Golfers in the southern part of the region will enjoy an extra month or so of peak turf conditions.

Preemergence herbicides to control annual grasses will need to be applied earlier this spring due to the mild weather. Keep in mind that these only last so long, so early treatments will not extend weed control as far into the summer as standard or late treatments. Do not be surprised to find some weeds popping up as the season progresses.

On a final note, be sure to notice how good the greens look early in the season. Limited traffic during the winter provided putting surfaces time to heal from scuffing and ball marks. Make an extra effort to lift your feet and repair ball marks this spring and you will experience smoother putting surfaces all summer.

Bob Vavrek is the regional director, central region, for the USGA Green Section. Email him at

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