A plow clearing the 16 green.

West Hills


/ Greenside blog

April Update

Hey Folks!

I hope everyone is healthy and keeping safe! This post will be a little bit lengthy, but with the current quarantine restrictions I thought maybe I could bring a bit of the golf course into your six foot bubble. I’m going to try and detail some of the events from the winter right up to the current situation.

The health of the greens in the spring time often depends on how the winter set up. If prolonged, ice coverage can cause damage to the turf by creating an anoxic environment. Ice can create air tight layers that do not allow gas exchange. Similar to humans in an air tight room, eventually you would use up all the oxygen and be forced to breath the Carbon Dioxide you had expelled. Turf suffers the same fate, but reverse the CO2 and O2. This is a generalized explanation but for the sake of simplicity, ice coverage over three months is bad. The 2018/19 winter conditions developed from a rain storm in December that partial melted the existing snow and then formed thick flats of ice in the low surfaces of most of the greens. The results were devastating.

The spring to 2019 was pretty close to the worst conditions I have ever seen and I had thought such devastation was unlikely to be repeated.

By late fall 2019 I thought Mother Nature was going to repeat herself.

Ice on the green.
Ice one the green, November 2019
A view of the 18 fairway covered in ice.
Ice on 18 fairway, November 2019

Through rain and snow events we had about three inches of ice covering most of the golf course. We took some steps to reduce the coverage as much as possible. These included clearing the snow from the greens with the loader and then running a tow behind aerator to fracture the ice and create air pockets.

I applied black sand to the ice to aid in melting and hoped the weather would be sunny enough to clear the ice.  Remember, over 90 days of coverage is bad, so I would be concerned if we had ice into April as we did in 2018/19. Fortunately, Mother Nature helped us out and it rained for about three days, melting most of the problem areas. There were still some small pockets of ice where the snow hadn’t completely melted but I was confident that the majority of the turf was exposed and we would be OK if the winter wasn’t protracted. 

In February 2020 I returned to work from the winter break and began by taking samples from the areas ice typically forms on the greens.

A DeWalt Drill taking samples of the green below the ice.

By sampling this early we are able to tell if or when damage has occurred. If the February plugs are not healthy then I know we are in big trouble. Bare in mind that is a very small sample of a very large area and not always indicative of the actual situation. To reduce some of the uncertainty I usually pull samples from some of the worst hit areas from years prior. These are from 17, 16 and 14 green which took a beating last year. After a few days in the shop the plugs warmed up and looked great.

Plug samples from the green. The grass is growing and healthy.

In mid March I began blowing the snow and ice off the greens. The snow this year had multiple layers of thick ice embedded at different heights. These can be attributed to the melts and rain storms that occurred during the winter.

A close up of an ice layer on top of the green.
Ice layer on 11 green, March 2020

By breaking these layers and removing the material it exposes the surface of the green and any ice that might have formed. 

A plow clearing the 16 green.
Clearing 16 green, March 2020

Using the tractor and the snowblower it takes about two weeks to cut a path to the greens and clear them. I try to time the removal for late March (which is really difficult given the latest winters) when the temperatures are typically warmer and the exposed ice is removed quickly.

A close up of the ice surface on 11 green.
Surface ice on 11 green, 2020
A plow clearing the 3 green.
Clearing 3 Green, March 2020

I started clearing the greens from the shop and worked my way through out the course. The first one cleared was number 14. Within a few days the layer of ice on the green had melted and just a few drifts remained. The last greens finished were 12 and 13 due to the difficulty in getting to them.

A cleared number 17 green, with a small layer of ice on top.
Number 17, Match 2020
Another view of the cleared number 17 green, with a small layer of ice on top.
Number 17, 2020
A plowed 15 green.
Number 15, 2020
Ice melting on the 14 green.
14 green a few days after the ice had melted, March 2020

Even though I take the utmost care with the tractor, the physical removal of the snow and ice is not without the potential for damage. Occasionally I break through in the soft spots of ice, usually later in the day when the sun is out and the ice is beginning to weaken. Given the option of certainly having to repair these small areas versus the option of waiting to see how the greens do naturally, the choice is obvious.  These area will be plugged out from our Nursery as the spring progresses.

Close up of the damage from a loader on the 14 green.
Number 14 damage from the bucket on the loader.
The 15 green on a early March morning. The green has been cleared but ice still sits on top.
This is 15 green early March morning, 2020.  I had cleared the day before and the ice had melted and reformed over night.  
The number 15 green melting.
Number 15, same day as before, melting much improved.

If ranking winters from good or bad, I would consider the 2019/2020 to be average, from the turf perspective. Despite our best efforts to mitigate the ice damage we still have some areas where we will have to spend some time in repair mode. Earlier this week we has some great weather for melting and a majority of snow had naturally receded. I was able to better ascertain the damage on the golf course to a wider scale. For the most part there is a small amount of damage on the greens, where the snow didn’t completely melt in early December 2019. 12 and 13 greens showed to have the most localized ice damage and its seems unlikely any temporary greens will be necessary. To quantify the damage, we are looking at about 5k square feet of damage versus the 70k from the 2018/2019 season.

An outlined version of the 12 green, showing the area of the turf that is in trouble.
The center swale on 12 green, the turf inside the yellow line is definitely in trouble, April 2020 
An outline of the number 17 green showing where small patches of ice damage occurred.
Number 17 green, small patches of ice damage should be recoverable fairly quickly, April 2020

I have taken further samples from the weak areas and placed them in the shop to warm up. Its only been a day but stay tuned as to their development. Here a few pictures of the the greens that look good.

Snow melting on the 16 green.
Number 16 April 9, 2020
Snow melting on the 8 green.
Number 8, April 9, 2020
Snow melting on the 18 green.
Number 18, late March 2020
Snow melting on the 11 green. There is black sand being used to melt the ice.
Number 11, April 6, 2020.  The black colour is the the sand we use to melt the ice, not decaying turf.

Last fall we added a fungicide application for the fairways to our winterization program and have been seeing great results. The product reduces the effect of winter disease and thereby gives the plant a jump into the spring. Here are two examples of the results. 

Snow melting on the 13 green. The areas being treated are outlined.
Number 13, April 2020.  The areas to the left of the red line are treated.
The 15 green outlining where areas have been treated.
Number 15, April 2020. The areas to the right of the red line have been treated.

That brings us up to date as to the course conditions. If you have any questions about the course or our procedures don’t hesitate to contact me. My twitter account is @westhillssuper, you can email me at whgmain@gmail.com or comment on this blog. I look forward to hearing from you.

As the state of emergency continues we are working with a skeleton crew of staff members to minimize the the transmission of the Covid-19 virus. We will continue to keep the staff safe and the golf course in living order so that when this ends, and it will, we can get back to the great game of golf.
Please take of yourselves, each other and stay tuned.