For those thinking that the troubles related to the severe winter of 2013-14 have been limited to golf courses in the northern U.S. and Canada, think again.
Courses as far south as Georgia and Florida have experienced varying degrees of turf loss this spring because of the unusual spells of cold weather that stretched into these areas. And now, according to a news release from the Georgia GCSA, superintendent's ability to quickly repair these areas of dead turf is being hampered by a critical shortage of sod, which means golfers emerging from hibernation are finding straw-colored blotches littering their fairways and green surrounds.
“It really has been a perfect storm,” says Ken Mangum, CGCS at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, which hosts the U.S. Amateur Championship in August.
“But we also had cool, cloudy and wet conditions last summer that extended into the fall,” Mangum adds. “So a lot of farms weren’t able to establish new sod after their harvest last year. Now we have all these golf courses that suffered badly because of the winter. And even if you do find some sod, good luck trying to secure a truck to deliver it.”
Mangum, who has prepared the golf course for two PGA Championships and a U.S. Women’s Open at Atlanta Athletic Club, will be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in January. He says the past winter was the worst he could recall since 1977 when “we stayed frozen for six weeks straight and it killed a lot of grass everywhere.”
The most susceptible areas on a course are north facing slopes, persistently shaded areas and areas with poor drainage.
The good news is that the greens at most facilities came through mostly unscathed. Bentgrass is relatively cold tolerant and most courses with warm-season bermudagrass greens now use covers when temperatures plummet. But on fairways, around the greens and in rough areas which are grassed almost exclusively with warm-season turf in Georgia, superintendents can do little but cross their fingers.
Officials from the Georgia GCSA have asked for patience from golfers while their courses recover, which will happen, eventually. But without sod at the ready, recovery will require consistently warm temperatures and clear skies with plenty of sunlight. Sub 50-degree nighttime temperatures, like those experienced this week, do not help.
“Still, the situation is getting better every day,” Mangum says, wryly. “It’s just that the days go by too slow.”