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Mother Nature tees up winter challenges for courses

Paul Lane, superintendent at River Crossing Golf Club, chuckles when someone tells him what to expect with the South Texas winter each year.

“I don’t know if normal actually exists anymore,” Lane said Tuesday. “I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen normal.”

A year after abnormally cold temperatures and wet conditions wreaked havoc on greens, fairways and bottom lines, forecasters are calling for mild, dry conditions through late spring. While grasses on layouts have already begun to go dormant, as usual, operators are expecting welcome higher traffic on courses from players taking advantage of favorable conditions.

With that in mind, Lane and other superintendents at San Antonio-area facilities head into the next few months with varying game plans for keeping their layouts in top shape ‚ and attractive ‚ during the year’s most mercurial weather.

Several courses, including Olympia Hills Golf & Conference Center in Universal City, have elected to overseed ‚ planting rough stock bluegrass on greens and rye on fairways and tee boxes ‚ to keep acreage green and lush in chillier conditions.

Other sites, such as the Alamo City Golf Trail layouts and River Crossing, have elected to bypass overseeding in favor of fertilization, moisture and mowing programs.

“It’s kind of a gamble as to what the weather is going to be like in the winter,” said Brad Fryrear, superintendent of the seven ACGT facilities.

“It’s rolling the dice,” added Lane, who overseeded at River Crossing last year.

Indeed, if Mother Nature throws a curveball and courses are hit with extended stretches of freezing weather, those who have not overseeded will have to work harder to protect turfs ‚ mostly Bermuda grasses ‚ that could potentially be stunted during the important spring growing season.

However, that same overseeding that can insulate Bermuda from frigid temperatures can also be a hindrance to its rebirth in early spring, depending on the weather conditions. Simply put, the winter grasses sometimes don’t want to give way to the resurrected warm-weather Bermuda.

For Jason Wiedeman, general manager at Olympia Hills, the value of overseeding includes providing a form of erosion control. The popular course can accommodate up to 100 rounds a day during the winter, which means plenty of foot traffic that can damage the dormant Bermuda.

“I don’t think my greens could handle winter traffic,” said Wiedeman, the facility’s former superintendent. “They would just get trampled.”

At Brackenridge Golf Course, Fryrear and site superintendent John Steele will work to keep the layout green through the use of micronutrients such as iron, manganese and magnesium, dispersed in trace amounts over the roughly 25 acres of closely mowed turf, and aggressive moisture management of the top 3 or 4 inches of soil.

“We’re doing kind of an experiment to try to keep the color and look at acceptable levels,” said Fryrear, who overseeded Brackenridge last year, shortly after it was reopened from a $4.5 million makeover.

If the weather cooperates, the area courses will make the turn from winter to spring in great shape ‚ no matter the route chosen to get there.

“You wake up every morning and wonder, ‘What is Mother Nature going to throw at me today, and how am I going to deal with it?’” Lane said. “But I don’t know if there’s any real method to it, to be honest with you.”

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