December 21, 2010

University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture

Turfgrass Science Program ( – Turf Tips

Dealing with frost delays

Behind greens aerification, there is probably nothing that the golf course superintendent does that upsets the golfing public more than the early-morning call to the pro shop with the dreaded words FROST DELAY. Most golfers don't have a very good understanding of why frozen or frosted turf can't be played on. This is especially true in the south, where we often have dormant grass anyway, so how can frost be damaging to grass that is already dormant or asleep.

Our good friends, Larry Stowell and Wendy Gelernter, of Pace Turf in California, recently put together a short video that might be helpful to share with your golfers if they do not understand the reasons for frost delays.

One of the reasons that turf is so good for sporting activities such as golf is that the plant has enough elasticity that it can take the pressure of foot or equipment traffic and is not damaged with normal use. However, when a grass blade is frozen or frosted, it becomes rigid and loses this elasticity, so that the leaves will break or shatter rather than bend when pressures are applied. If you want to see this in action, take a look at this picture from my neighbor's yard.

frosted yard

Now, in this case, it is hard to tell the paper carrier that there is a frost delay on the turf this morning, but you can clearly see the damage caused even by walking on frozen or frosted turf.

The second problem that results from traffic on frosted turf is that it is occurring during a period of time when grasses, even cool-season grasses such as bentgrass or fescue, are really not growing very much and can't recover from the damage. In the spring or fall, when these grasses are actively growing, damage from traffic can be quickly forgotten if the turf is able to grow some new leaves in the days following the traffic. However, in mid-winter, the growth rate of the grasses is so slow that damage can takes weeks to recover from.

Finally, remind golfers that the frost patterns that they see on the practice putting green or the 18th green by the pro shop may not be the same as what is seen on the rest of the golf course. Areas that remain in the shade will retain the frost much longer that full-sun areas, so it is important that those areas are frost-free before allowing the golfers out on the course. A simple way to get this message to the golfers is to take some pictures of frost on the practice green and a shaded green at the same time and post those in the pro shop.

Hopefully, you will have lots of golfers out on your golf course this winter and frost delays will be minimal. However, frost delays are critical to the long-term health of your turf and it is our hope that this information will help you get that message to the golfers at your facility.

Have a great holiday and a prosperous 2011!!

Mike Richardson and Doug Karcher
University of Arkansas Turfgrass Program

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