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Prepping cold-climate courses for spring

Prepping cold-climate courses for spring

PGA of America Vice President Derek Sprague speaks about off-season course readiness

There are certainly many challenges that go along with the maintenance of a golf course, no matter what part of the country in which the course is located.

And while every course’s staff faces difficulties, the teams in charge of courses in the spots where extreme cold, snow and ice are the norm during the winter months must take certain critical steps in the fall and early winter to ensure they are ready for spring.

“In the fall, we put out two snow mold treatments on the greens which helps protect the greens from snow mold in the spring,” said Derek Sprague, general manager and head pro at Malone Golf Club in Malone, N.Y.

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An example of common Minnesota snow mold. Photo courtesy University of Minnesota.

Of course, you might know Sprague better for his “other” job as vice president of the PGA of America.

In addition to caring for the greens, Sprague said the Malone staff will do some tree clearing to allow more sunlight to certain greens and tees, go through all of the ball washers to make any necessary repairs, and paint or stain the course’s benches.

“Our mechanic is very busy going through all the equipment to make sure it is ready to go in the spring,” he said. “This includes sharpening the reels, oil changes, checking bushings and bearings, checking hydraulic fluid and lines for wear.”

winter golf course maintenance

It’s not unusual to do some snow removal on non-covered greens, experts say. It discourages water buildup. 

Ideal winter weather, Sprague said, includes a good blanket of snow of about 12 inches on the course and seasonal but not extremely cold of fluctuating temperatures to keep the frost depth to a minimum.

Judging by this year’s rash of record-low temperatures, 2014 could be a tough summer on courses across the United States. 

Ultimately, Mother Nature is always in charge. In the north, it’s like you are starting over every year. You really never know what you are going to get in the spring,” Sprague said.

“Think of it this way. The cold winter creates a large ice cube. In the spring, that ice cube, the ground, needs to thaw out like an ice cube melting in your hand,” he said. “With shorter days of sunlight and nights still below 32 in the spring often times, it could take up to six to eight weeks before grass will begin to grow.”

Sprague said one thing golfers need to understand is that golf courses in general want to open up as soon as possible, but the keen operators want to make sure their golf courses are in good condition all season long versus taking some short-term revenue by opening too early.

It is often a fine line for cold climate courses as longer, colder winters and shorter, milder winters can both impact bottom lines in big ways. For example, Sprague said, when Malone opened three weeks earlier in 2012 than 2013, the difference was about $30,000 in income.

Sprague is expected to be elevated to PGA president toward the end of this year and will be in charge as golf makes it long-awaited return to the Olympics at the 2016 Rio summer games.


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