|Photo from CanadianGolfer.com|
A member passed this article on to me from the Chicago Tribune on difficulties with golf course conditions in the Chicago area. Parts of Michigan and Toronto were also hard hit areas. Thoughts are with all the guys and ladies trying to deal with getting their courses back into shape. The importance of reducing the amount of poa annua on greens as much as possible.
Think you had a tough winter? Pity the area's golf course superintendents. For weeks they've desperately tried to turn their bumpy browns into smooth greens.
A blog written by Skokie Country Club superintendent Donald Cross warned that viewing pictures of the course's weather-damaged greens "can lead to Insomnia, Hypertension, Depression, Anxiety, Irritability, Stress, Mood Swings, and other psychological and physiological conditions ... all of which have been experienced by this author!" Dr. Ed Nangle, director of turfgrass programs for the Chicago District Golf Association, said he has seen fairways that look like "a chameleon in a candy shop." Gary Groh, the head professional at Bob O'Link in Highland Park, summed up his frustration over the chilly spring this way: "It's 48 degrees here right now up by the lake. Doggone it!" The driving range is open at Bob O'Link, but the course might not be playable until June after the poa annua died on about 13 greens, forcing the club to re-plant. And Bob O'Link is in the majority. Public or private, small or big maintenance budget, few courses were immune to the big chill.
A survey conducted by the CDGA and Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents found nearly 65 percent of area courses have damaged greens and an estimated 85 percent have issues with fairways or tee boxes. "I've been in the business for 25 years," MAGCS executive director Luke Cella said. "This is the worst." Cog Hill owner Frank Jemsek can't remember worse weather-related conditions in his 50 years in the business, according to daughter Katherine, the club president. The greens on Cog Hill's signature "Dubsdread" course are fine, but some greens on the Nos. 1-3 courses have puncture marks as a result of aeration. "Customers are noticing and asking a lot of questions," Katherine Jemsek said. "We try to educate them and explain that we're doing everything we can."
With ground temperatures stuck in the 40s, too cold for grass to grow, courses have had to create their own "temps" in the form of temporary greens. Skokie opened the season with just three of its normal greens and is now up to eight. Officials at Wynstone Golf Club in North Barrington created temporary greens at the end of fairways. Landing an approach shot inside a spray-painted 20-foot circle encompassing the hole yields an automatic two-putt. Get your ball within a 4-foot circle, and you can walk off with an unsatisfying one-putt. Wynstone's goal is to have every regular green playable by Memorial Day weekend. In August the club will shut down for a "gassing and regrassing" of all 18 greens, a $150,000 project that will replace the temperamental poa annua with weather-resistant bentgrass. That divide was evident at Medinah, where the poa annua greens on the No. 2 course "were slow to wake up," superintendent Curtis Tyrrell said, but the bentgrass greens on the world-class No. 3 course were barely affected. Clubs are reluctant to make the switch, though, because it requires about 16 weeks of growing weather. So on top of being shut down in the fall, Wynstone might not be ready for play in 2015 until June.
"Change causes heartburn at private clubs," Wynstone head pro Andy Phelan said. "This is a third home for our members, after home and the office." It's a sensitive enough topic that officials at intensely private old-money clubs Shoreacres and Old Elm declined to comment. Dan Dinelli, a third-generation superintendent, said members at North Shore Country Club in Glenview have been largely sympathetic. Dinelli's maintenance crew limited damage by using plant protectants to winterize and by removing snow and breaking up ice in February. The club has just two temporary greens and expects to be in top shape for the Encompass Championship, the Champions Tour event the club will host June 20-22. "Honestly I'm really just focused on member use now," he said. "It has been a long winter for everyone." Cella, who works with superintendents throughout the Midwest, said the winter culprit was "ice encasement." "People think the turf goes dormant in the winter," he said, "but the grass still needs oxygen to live. When it gets encased in ice, there's a buildup of toxic gases and it dies." A chilly April made a bad situation worse. "When the Masters is on TV, I've usually mowed five to seven times," Cella said. "I mowed my lawn for the first time last weekend. We're a solid three to four weeks behind, so you can't even get grass seeds to germinate." Cella and the CDGA's Nangle have been advising superintendents — and trying to help them keep their sanity. "There's no point in panicking," Nangle said. "But there's frustration and impatience because the temperatures now are what they should be in late March." Nangle said whatever the superintendents did in the winter and spring, "it didn't seem to matter. The guys who covered (the greens) did not get perfect results. And some that didn't cover on heavily tree-lined courses did fine." One of those is Glencoe Golf Club, a public course charging $50 to walk 18 holes this weekend. Head pro Matt Radde said he has heard "horror stories" from pros at other clubs, but he cannot share in the misery. Glencoe has been open since late March, and every green is playable. "Some of the spots aren't pretty," Radde said, "but there's nothing wrong with them. We get a lot of private (club) players who say we have some of the best greens around."