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Frost Delays

Frost Delay on the Golf CourseIn many parts of the country, the summer temperatures have cooled down and are now providing some great fall days to play golf.  In addition to falling leaves that we discussed last week, the cooler temperatures often times lead to the two words golfers don’t like to hear – frost delay.  What causes a frost delay and why do golfers get so upset with it? 

According to the GCSAA (Golf Course Superintendent’s Association of America), “Frost is basically frozen dew that has crystallized on the grass, making it hard and brittle.  A grass blade is actually 90 percent water, therefore it also freezes.  Because of the short mowing height (sometimes as low as 1/8 inch) and fragile nature of the turf, putting greens are most affected by frost.  Walking on frost-covered greens causes the plant to break and cell walls to rupture, thereby losing its ability to function normally.  When the membrane is broken, much like an egg, it cannot be put back together.”

As the temperatures drop in the fall, frost delays become common in many parts of the country.  Frost forms when the grass absorbs sunlight and heat during the day, then loses that heat when the sun sets at night, causing the grass temperature to be lower than the actual outside air temperature.  This temperature difference causes moisture to condense on the grass at night.  When the temperature of the grass is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the moisture crystalizes and becomes frost.  Many golfers think an air temperature above 32 degrees will prevent frost from forming, but frost may occur even when the air temperature is in the mid to upper 30s. 

When frost occurs on the golf course, the Golf Professional staff is in close conversation with the golf course superintendent and both parties will agree to delay the start of rounds for the day until the frost melts.  While this is usually not the best news a group of golfers want to hear, it is in the best interest of the golf course.  Frost itself doesn’t kill the grass like it does with flowers and plants, however walking on a frost covered surface will cause long-lasting damage.  Footsteps will cause the frozen grass to break, then turn brown and die.  You will see the footprints in the grass long after the frost has melted (sometimes even three or four days later).  This makes the damaged turf more likely to have disease and weeds in the future, plus it’s very expensive to repair.

From a golf operations standpoint, frost delays usually bring the course to a stand-still until the frost melts.  You may be upset about having your starting time delayed, but the golf facility staff is doing what is best for your enjoyment on the course.  You may notice from the clubhouse that the course appears to be frost-free, but remember there are many acres of grass in shady areas that also need to melt.  The upside is, you can take advantage of some food and/or beverages in the clubhouse along with engaging conversation from your golf group, until the frost has melted.