Why can\‘t I play golf when temperatures freeze?

By Brian Whitlark, USGA Southwest Green Section agronomist

Although the recent cold snap may be rare, frost delays occur every year in southern AZ. Frost may occur at temperatures hovering slightly above freezing, but frost severity increases as the overnight low dips below 30̊ F. Golfers are often impatient during frost delays and do not fully understand why it is necessary to stay off the frozen turf.

Perhaps golfers think the traffic they impart is minimal. What harm can one foursome do? The answer is, one foursome can impart extreme damage on just one green.

When the turf is frozen, foot traffic, cart traffic and even traffic from dogs, cats and rabbits can severely damage the turf. Trafficking frosty turf often results in extensive physical “breaking” of the inner pipelines of the leaves. These pipelines, the xylem and phloem, serve to carry water and nutrients throughout the plant, and when severed, the leaf will eventually die.

Damage is often visible within 24 hours, and appears as brown or black footprints or tire tracks. This damage will impact cosmetics and playing conditions until recovery occurs when the ryegrass tillers to cover the bare area. Depending on the temperatures, this may take several weeks, or even months. When frost is found, use common sense and remove all players from the turf.

Brian Whitlark is an agronomist with the USGA Green Section and lives in Gilbert, AZ. He can be contacted at the following email: [email protected]