The frost effect

At this time of year it’s quite normal to wake up and discover that it’s frosty. There’s a beautiful clear sky and little wind, perfect conditions for golf, but also for frost at this cool time of year. Temperatures plummet due to a lack of cloud cover allowing the surface to cool as infrared radiation escapes rapidly from the ground and other surfaces.

Many golfers are unaware of the damage that can be caused by playing on courses when they’re frozen. A few factors encourage damage during these times such as soil conditions (wet or dry) and different grass types being more susceptible than others. Why it happens, though, falls into two main categories:

1.) When the leaf of the grass plant itself is frozen, the frost causes the water in the plant cells to freeze, damaging the cell wall. Plant tissues are easily bruised by players’ feet. Following a thaw, it’s often possible to see brown footprints for several weeks, particularly around hole positions where the grass has been significantly damaged.

The greater the amount of play in frost, the greater extent of the damage. Affected areas remain thin for long periods, including well into late spring until growth becomes stronger. The ‘trueness’ of putting surfaces are affected, but more importantly, weaker grasses invade the sward (expanse of short grass). This makes the greens more susceptible to disease. An important consideration in the present day as many fungicides for disease control are no longer available to use.

2.) Long term damage is caused when play takes place after a sudden thaw. In these conditions, the top 13-20mm or so becomes soft, while the underlying soil remains frozen. Root damage occurs from the shearing actions of players’ feet moving the soft, unfrozen surface across the frozen subsurface. This causes damage that may not recover until well into the middle of summer. This can also lead to drainage problems.

At the Links, our frost policy is to close the courses when conditions are as described in the above situations. We’ll open the courses when the ground is frozen solid, but the grass plant itself is not. Although because staff are unable to change the holes in these conditions, if the frost continues for a prolonged period, the area around the hole does become worn.

We treat our seven courses individually according to the conditions on each. For example, the Balgove and Strathtyrum courses are often affected more than the others as they’re sheltered by the tree belt on many holes. As such their greens take longer to thaw following prolonged spells of frost. Likewise, we occasionally have the 18th flag on the Old Course on the fairway due to the shade from the buildings causing it to be the only green on the course that remains frozen.

There are lots of considerations for our greenkeeping staff during these colder months as well as for golfers. One being how many layers to wear when frost hasn’t closed the courses!

Words by Gordon Moir, Director of Greenkeeping

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