Winter Golf in the Transition Zone
Many golf courses in Southern Indiana and throughout the transition zone have beautiful contrast between warm-season fairways and cool-season roughs from late fall to early spring.
One of the biggest challenges that turf agronomists face is managing cart traffic on the dormant turf. While warm-season grasses are known for their durability, the winter months can prove to be challenging. Well-established, mature bermudagrass and zoysiagrass fairways can withstand considerable cart traffic in the winter months under the right conditions.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to make a decision on whether to allow carts on your dormant turf:
The most damage to dormant warm-season turf is caused when cart traffic and foot traffic wear down the leaf foliage while the root zone remains frozen. This will expose the crown of the plant and make it vulnerable to winterkill. Damaging or removing the leaf tissue makes the stolons brittle and susceptible to further damage.
Soil will take days—sometimes weeks—to dry out after a rain event in the winter months due to less sunlight and drying times. Cart traffic on saturated dormant turf will fracture root systems and cause winterkill. Poorly drained and low-lying areas are the most vulnerable.
Some tree line fairways and heavily shaded areas will have frost on the dormant turf throughout the morning and sometimes into the afternoon. Some people think that because the turf is dormant, it won’t get damaged during frosty days. But driving or walking across turf with frost on it will cause the dormant leaf blades to fracture and in some cases expose the crown of the plant. This will greatly increase the chances for winterkill.
Not all is lost for winter golf on dormant turf. There are a couple of things that you can do to help prepare for the winter months:
Applying a product like Armament K in the fall will increase the hardiness of your warm-season turf. It’s important to have as many carbohydrates stored in your plant as possible heading into winter.
Raise the height of cut
By raising your height of cut, you’ll increase the leaf tissue. This in theory will allow for more storage of carbohydrates.
Applying a product like ArmorTech Kade as a pre-emergent will also help in maintaining healthy warm-season turf. Reducing Poa annua (annual bluegrass) should be a goal for your winter preparation.
Use traffic control methods
You can use ropes and stakes to control and rotate cart traffic, helping minimize damage. Most of the cart traffic will be in front of greens near approaches, so you should heavily monitor these areas.