Archive for April, 2015

Submitted by: Rob Witherspoon, Director, Guelph Turfgrass Institute, robwith@uoguelph.ca

Observations from the field this spring indicate much better winter survival of turf in southern Ontario as compared to the devastation of spring, 2014. There are some reports of damage in north, central and eastern regions of province. Many golf courses are open or opening soon across the south although the short range forecast is more winter-like than spring.

It happens every year in the spring – sometimes earlier, sometimes later. Snow melts, or comes and goes as it seems to be this spring, and everyone is anxious to get out the house and on the turf… your turf. Pro shop phones are ringing with calls from golfers anxious to play. Sports field user groups are calling to ask when they can start scheduling practices or often just heading out and playing on the first sunny day of spring. Due to the demand for early spring access, some turf must die.


Most private club members have a long-standing culture of respecting the course and its turf. Often accommodations are made to provide some form of play on the range or practice areas during early spring like days which relieves some of the early course opening pressure. Public courses are in the business of making money and financial pressures trump agronomic concerns. Early spring play brings a dormant cash flow to life and can make or break a season. But what to do about protecting the turf that may be frosty most mornings, mostly dormant, often saturated and susceptible to death and destruction from enthusiastic early season play.

Communication is more critical than cultivation at this time of year. It is a great opportunity to raise your profile and influence around the clubhouse. Tension between the pro shop and maintenance staff is an issue at many courses. Spring is an opportunity to reconnect with returning or new clubhouse staff. Share with them what is happening out on the course, identify areas of concern and give them the information they need to effectively communicate with members and daily fee players. While you may not be the most popular person around the clubhouse during morning frost delays, introduce yourself and welcome golfers to your course while at the same time explaining why they shouldn’t be out on frosty turf.

There is an ever-growing community of transient golfers who may visit only when your course is the green fee deal of the day on GolfNow or other online green fee discounting site. These players may not always have the respect for the course of your regular clientele. Cart path only may become cart path only in view of the clubhouse. A combination of effective communication and on-course policing may be needed to protect your turf from damage.

Starters and course marshals/player assistants are an often overlooked communication conduit for superintendents. Typically volunteers paid in golf, they are the staff interacting most frequently and personally with your golfing clients. Consider hosting an early season barbeque for them at your maintenance facility where they can get to know you and your staff and learn more about the challenges of maintaining a playable golf course. Take them for a ride along pointing out the damage caused by carts, areas sensitive to traffic and maybe even provide a lesson in ball mark repair. Handing out a few found Pro V1’s on occasion through the season will help to maintain your connection and their appreciation of the challenges you face and how they can help.

golf green with flag

On many public courses the pins are in and golfers are out before the grass has started growing or the ice is off the ponds.

Sports Fields

Restricting access to school or municipal sports fields is really only possible where fields can be fenced and locked. Even then, young athletes will often view climbing the fence as a good pre-game warm up. While most of us are advocates of natural turf surfaces, early spring is certainly a time when synthetic fields can take some pressure off frozen or saturated natural turf fields. If no or limited synthetic fields are available, consider directing them to temporary practice areas that may not usually be used as sports fields. Many European cities have off-season practice fields made of compacted stone dust that are low maintenance and usable in almost any weather condition. They have the added benefit of discouraging aggressive tackling.

As in the golf business, communication with your client group is essential. Attend sports group organizational meetings to communicate with coaches and league officials about field restrictions not only in spring but throughout the coming season. Take advantage of the opportunity to educate coaches about other issues such as moving repetitive drills around on the field to more evenly distribute wear. Be prepared to listen and respond to their concerns about field conditions.

Whether you are a golf course superintendent or sports turf manager, proactive communication can help to alleviate some spring turf damage but not all. We should be thankful that others value the properties we maintain. Be prepared to redirect traffic and/or plan for early season repair work to get the turf back in shape for the main part of the season. Accept that in spite of your best efforts, sometimes, some turf must die.

If you have any interesting information to share from your experiences so far this spring or a suggestion for a future ONTurf blog posting, please let me know by email (robwith@uoguelph.ca) or phone (519-824-4120 ext 56886).

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