As the winter months settle in, daily maintenance to our putting greens becomes a difficult proposition. This time of the year challenges our decision-making because we do not want our members playing golf on unprepared surfaces. However, when the night time temperatures consistently fall below freezing, the top 2-3" of the green becomes frozen. On certain days the greens remain frozen and our decision is pretty easy. We will always avoid rolling/mowing frozen turf because it is detrimental to the grass.
To illustrate, imagine someone standing on your back in two different scenarios. In the first scenario, imagine that you are lying on a firm, unforgiving surface. In this scenario, there is no give beneath your body so you will absorb all of the pressure from the person standing on you. Now, imagine that scenario involves you laying on a fluffy mattress. In this scenario, the give of the mattress absorbs some of the downward pressure and it is not as painful to your body. Turf existing on frozen ground feels the full effect of mower/roller traffic because there is no give beneath the turf. Couple that fact with grass that is not actively growing and you have a situation that could set grass back.
Our decision gets tricky on days where the greens are initially frozen in the morning, but begin to thaw throughout the afternoon. On these days, our members see an opportunity to play golf and we want them to have the best conditions possible. So, the frost lifts in the late-morning and the grass appears to be ready for maintenance. However, in that transition period between frost lifting and afternoon warmth, the greens may still be frozen through the profile. It may be 1:00,2:00 or even 3:00 before they fully thaw. Obviously, it does our member no good if they have to wait until the early afternoon to tee off because sunlight will prohibit a reasonable finish time.
So, on each of these "tweener" mornings, we have to decide if: (a) the greens will thaw at all and (b) if they are going to thaw, will they thaw fast enough to give us a window to prepare them for play without holding golf until the early afternoon. Its a daily decision that we make every day. The real problem for the golfer is that when a frozen green thaws, not only does it become soft, it becomes "spongy" soft. To explain this phenomenon would require an entire other blog post.... you'll have to trust me. Nonetheless, "spongy" soft greens aren't that fun to putt on because they can be very slow and "wobbly."
Everyday, we look at the condition of the greens in the morning and decide if the thawing will occur quick enough to at least mow the greens. (We generally stay away from rolling greens this time of year.) If we feel like our window of time is large enough, we mow the greens. Otherwise, we may let them go untouched. So, through the winter months, please know that we want great conditions on a daily basis, no matter the season. However, on some days, this freeze-thaw effect "ties our hands" and we choose to do nothing. On those days, don't think we forgot about golf, its just Mother Nature holding us back. Golf through the winter months is what makes the transition zone unique and we love to see people enjoying the course year-round.