Superintendents doing best to limit impact of latest Arctic blast

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By Ken MacLeod

After dealing with significant winter kill across the state two of the last three years, superintendents are understandably concerned with what damage the latest Arctic plunge may have inflicted on Bermuda grass fairways, tees, collars and greens.

However there is also cautious optimism that a combination of weather factors plus more proactive measures to prevent damage may combine to lessen the impact.

Silt fences at Tulsa Country Club designed to limit impact of north winds on tee boxes.

Rain of up to two inches in many areas occurred shortly before temperatures plummeted into the single digits last Saturday, meaning there was high moisture content in the ground which is believed to help prevent winter kill. Many superintendents also watered late last week and used wetting agents to increase the moisture content even more.

A thin blanket of snow that fell Sunday could also have helped insulate many areas. And there were no particularly strong north winds associated with this event.

Brady Finton

Many superintendents put in other measures, such as double layers of covers put down on Bermuda greens or silt fences put up to deflect wind on north-facing slopes.

Tulsa Country Club superintendent Brady Finton put out 3,000 linear feet of silt fencing to keep north winds off areas that have recently been sodded or tee boxes that are perched on some of the higher areas on the property.

“Bob Randquist (former Southern Hills superintendent) always used to say that when the ponds freeze over, that’s when you worry about Bermuda grass dying,” Finton said. “Well, our ponds are freezing over. But we’re hoping that the moisture content in the soil is our saving grace on this one. The soil temperatures have really not gotten much below 31 degrees yet and that’s not bad.”

Bailey Ranch Golf Course in Owasso spent much of 2023 recovering from winter kill issues on its new Bermuda greens and had to sprig large areas in its fairways. The course purchased a second set of green covers to better protect the greens in weather events of this nature.

Corey Burd
Chris Cook

“We feel good that as cold as it’s been, with the wetting agents that Chris (superintendent Chris Cook) put down and the big rain, we should be good,” said Corey Burd, director of golf at Bailey Ranch. “Also I don’t think you can compare the health of the turf going in this year, it was strong last fall and should have been fully dormant, where as last year we had so much drought and the freeze came so early (Dec. 22). It’s just a different situation this year.”

At Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, the freeze gave new superintendent Bryant Evans a chance to test the hydronic system installed below his greens, but also to proactively try to prevent the winter kill that occurred prior to both the 2021 Senior PGA Championship and 2022 PGA Championship, both spring events that had former superintendent Russ Myers buying up most of the available sod in the Tulsa area to quickly repair damaged areas before major championships.

“We put a few thousand feet of silt fencing up and a few dozen extra tarps on some north-facing slopes that have been damaged in the past,” Evans said. “And we went out before the freeze and put wetting agent down here and there, just trying to make the Bermuda grass as happy as possible.”

Bryant Evans
Derron Day

Firelake Golf Course in Shawnee was the first golf course in the state to successfully install ultradwarf Bermuda greens (2007) and it hasn’t had issues with winter kill on them of late like many of those that recently installed them have, including Bailey Ranch, The Canyons at Blackjack Ridge in Sand Springs, Indian Springs Country Club and Heritage Hills GC in Claremore. Firelake superintendent Derron Day said the newer greens need a few years to establish root systems that are deep enough to withstand significant cold.

“When we call them ultradwarf, that’s not just the blade, it’s the roots as well,” Day said. “They need time to get established.”

Day said he raised the mowing height of Firelake’s fairways to one inch prior to the first freeze (normally mowed at .600) and used wetting agents and the irrigation system to make sure the soil was as moist as could be prior to the freeze.

David Jones

“I feel pretty good right now and hopefully won’t have to eat those words,” Day said. “We wanted to give ourselves every opportunity to get through this successfully.”

David Jones, superintendent at Indian Springs where the new Bermuda greens on the River Course suffered damage last spring, leading to a combination of sodding and sprigging, said he is hopeful the again new greens will withstand this latest blast.

“We had some that we double covered and put down hay on others over the tarps,” Jones said. “We used some wetting agents and some other products they use on crops. So we’re hopeful but you don’t know anything until the spring. It’s Mother Nature and sometimes you just have to wait and see.”


 

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Ken MacLeod

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