The bleak winter that waged a war on Bermuda grass at golf courses throughout the region made no exceptions for three local links, though the damages varied from one course to another.
The season featured mild weather at its start before an onslaught of particularly cold temperatures and several waves of frozen precipitation. Isolated freezing toward the start of spring didn’t help the Bermuda, which covers fairways and tees at most local courses and greens, too, at many others.
“The damage of direct low temperature kill occurs most commonly during periods of alternating freezing and thawing, aggravated by the increase in plant moisture when the turf is most vulnerable in late winter,” said Bill Anderson, an agronomist with the Carolinas Golf Association.
“This past 2015 winter leaves no doubt that the ultra-low temperatures are the direct cause of the winter kill turf injury,” Anderson said.
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Among the three local courses in eastern Wake County, Wendell Country Club reported the worst damage.
Crews spent the early part of last week ripping up all or portions of six greens on Wendell’s front nine, salvaging patches of surviving grass wherever possible. Those greens and the course’s practice green were expected to be sodded by the end of the week, and course leaders hoped the new turf would take hold in another week’s time.
Affected portions of fairways and tees and areas surrounding greens are showing signs of recovery.
‘Freeze just zapped it’
The aftermath of the winter kill appears sporadic.
A distinct line can separate a section of lush grass from a dead patch a matter of inches away. One hole can be scarred and the next, like No. 3 at Wendell, largely spared.
“There were low-lying areas, shaded areas on the side of slopes, a lot of areas that got constant rain and ice that were holding water and were freezing and refreezing,” said Wendell head pro Ben Yeargin. “Everyone’s pointing at that last freeze in March. Everything was trying to come out and then the freeze just zapped it.”
The incoming sod for the Wendell greens, an ultradwarf Bermuda, will be similar to the surface it replaces.
“There’s nothing you can do when it happens other than spend the money to fix it,” Yeargin said. “It causes a lack of play – that’s why we are fixing it as soon as it was possible. A lot of people have had this problem around the Raleigh area, that’s why sod is in such a limited supply right now.”
Shade a common factor
Wil-Mar Golf Club co-owner Marty Allen said there was a trend at his course, where the winter did varying amounts of damage to five greens and a couple fairways.
“What we found out this year was everywhere we had grass cut at less than rough height – 1 3/4 inches – if it got any shade at all during the day, it was damaged,” Allen said. “The more shade it got, the more damaged it was.”
None of Wil-Mar’s affected greens were totally lost; most of the five saw 25-35 percent damage. Greens were aerified early last week and Allen expected spot repairs with sod will be completed this week.
“All we’ll need is warm temperatures, fertilizer and water,” Allen said. “We can’t do much about the weather, but we will put the water and fertilizer on it, be sure of that. We expect to be back in good shape within a couple weeks.”
Zebulon Country Club reported considerably less damage. General Manager David Windley said he knows that’s cause to feel fortunate.
About 15 percent of the No. 16 green was affected, but the course hasn’t had to close it down.
“We’re doing a little maintenance on some of the greens,” Windley said. “The shadier areas here and there are affected but overall, compared to the things I’ve heard from other courses, we’ve survived the winter very well.”
The setbacks the courses are facing are the unfortunate realities of working at the mercy of Mother Nature, Windley said.
Worst weather in years
For Allen, who has been in the golf business off Old Milburnie Road since 1975, the recent winter brought back memories of one nearly 40 years ago.
“The winter of 76-77 was the worst winter we had ever had,” he said. “That winter was a very cold and dry winter and all the greens died.”
The popular grass choice for greens at the time was Tifton 328 Bermuda. The wintry weather that year, Allen said, is what prompted a mass transition to bentgrass.
“For the next 30 years we all went from Bermuda to bent and that gave us problems, too, because the bent had trouble with the heat in the summer,” Allen said. “It became what do you do – stay with the bent or go with the Bermuda? We switched over to Tifdwarf (Bermuda) four years ago and it went really well.”