By Ken MacLeod
While 2018 was one of the worst years for golf weather since golf industry analysts such as Pellucid started keeping track of Golf Playable Hours for all areas of the country, the start of 2019 was favorable for many areas of the country.
But not here in Oklahoma.
As courses start to close the books on February, the combination of a wet and cold fall along with consistently miserable weather throughout January and February and a frigid start to March, have local courses pining for spring.
Pat McCrate, who oversees golf operations at LaFortune Park in Tulsa and South Lakes in Jenks, said he heard tales from his predecessors about a winter in the late 1970s in which snow covered the ground for 45 days, but this is the worst sustained stretch of golf weather in his memory.
“It’s been about as bad a six-month stretch as I’ve been through,” McCrate said. “It started with all the rains on weekends in October, then November and December were awful. I think our driving range was only open four days in January and nine or 10 days in February. We’ve had the covers on the greens on the par-3 (to protect the hybrid Bermuda greens). We could really use a nice spring.”
Courses that have Bermuda greens such as Page Belcher and Mohawk Park in Tulsa have had to frequently cover their greens as the Bermuda is susceptible to winter kill in extreme temperatures. McCrate has had to battle the perception that the greens on the LaFortune Park championship course, which are bent grass, would also be covered, but bent grass is not bothered by the cold.
At Page Belcher, general manager Tom Wolff said today the greens were covered 14 days in January and 13 days in February, both records since converting to Bermuda greens in 2012. They will remain covered Friday when temperatures are expected to peak at 50 degrees because of the extended cold forecast for Saturday and beyond.
“It’s the worst stretch in the 11 years I’ve been here,” Wolff said. “It’s been pretty abysmal, even worse than in 2010 and 11 when we had a combined 36 inches of snow.”
Even for courses with bent grass greens, it doesn’t do much good to be open if no one wants to play. Brian Soerensen, the director of golf at Kickiingbird Golf Course in Edmond, said the Jan.-Feb time frame was among the worst for rounds in that stretch since the course began keeping records.
“The cold has just been very difficult for our players,” he said. “The unique thing about our business is once the rounds are lost, they are lost. You might make up some on a nice day because everyone has cabin fever, but when I report these numbers to our golf advisory board, the rounds lost are lost.”
At Earlywine Golf Course in Oklahoma City, director of golf Dan Langford said he tracks golf playable days as measured by 50 or more golfers playing one of his 18-hole courses in a day, and he is down 22 golf playable days since the start of the fiscal year July 1. And that is measured against a poor weather year in 2017-18.
“It’s one of the worst two winters I can remember in my time in Oklahoma City,” said Langford, who was an assistant at LaFortune Park when not a greens fee was sold for those 45 days under snow. “There’s a lot of factors going on with the golf industry in terms of play, but if you don’t have weather, you don’t have a chance of anything else. The old saying is that you can heat them (golfers) up, blow them around but you can’t freeze them or get them wet.”
For courses such as Forest Ridge in Broken Arrow that depend as much on membership sales as individual rounds, there is a buffer in the winter if memberships are renewed even if rounds are down. Still the lack of golfers hurts, as director of golf Lance Allen said.
“We were down in January and February will be about 50 percent down,” Allen said. “It bleeds over into the restaurant, the golf shop and other areas.”
Forest Ridge will be opening a revamped restaurant/bar and a new health center in March. Look for more on those on this site Friday.
As for looking for the sun and warmer temperatures, a warming trend is predicted to start on March 6. Can’t wait.