What seems like a no brainer can often become one of the biggest debates for a golf facility operating in the South Central Region of the United States: Potential for Winter Revenue vs. Protecting the Golf Course.
From the agronomic side, winter play should be restricted or banned to maximize turfgrass health and survival. However, the easy counter argument here is that winter play increases the chance at additional revenue during the slow time of the year and can even introduce your course to a new clientele who may come back during the prime season.
Ultimately, it is a fine line for the Golf Course Management team to carefully weigh in on the potential for additional revenue versus the risk of potential winter turf injury. Is the small increase in winter revenue worth the offset cost of damage when winterkill can become widespread through the following spring?
What most golfers fail to understand is that turfgrass plants recover from traffic through active regrowth. Concentrated winter traffic on greens and tees can stress turf plants and make them more susceptible to winterkill when cold temperatures return. Concentrated cart and foot traffic around greens and tees can then often be seen the following spring.
Traffic on wet soils or partially frozen soil also increases compaction. Winter freeze-thaw cycles help alleviate compaction from the summer play. Winter traffic can reduce natural compaction relief and can negatively impact turf performance during the summer.
While dry and unfrozen conditions may seem like a better occasion to allow winter play, these conditions are especially challenging because they dehydrate the turf. It reduces the plant cold-hardiness and can lead to death when cold weather returns. Many Golf Course Superintendents fight winter desiccation with light applications of watering. Concentrated traffic accelerates turf dehydration, increases water requirements and increases the risk of winterkill. It is comparable to playing golf on turf that is never watered during a summer drought.
Re-establishing turfgrass in spring can also be extremely difficult because the soil is still cold, and the weather isn’t ideal for seedling growth and recovery. Traffic from spring golf can also slow recovery causing winterkill to linger until mid-summer or longer.
The thought of increased revenue during winter can be very tempting. However, the small increase in revenue can be dwarfed by the damage that increased traffic can cause during what already proves to be a stressful time for turfgrass, especially at a course with a history of winterkill during spring.
Knowing this information, the Golf Course Management is dedicated to improving the course conditions and enjoyment for all our golfers while protecting the course when it needs protection the most. Unfortunately, sometimes it is an inconvenience to those looking to get out and enjoy a beautiful day on the course after unfavorable weather, but our intentions will always be looking towards the future well being and not trying to make “the quick buck”. When the weather permits, the plan will always be to have the course open for full play, however, sometimes that is out of our control.