Ice on putting greens: Big deal or no deal?

Freeze-thaw cycles throughout this winter are creating short-term ice sheets on putting greens.

Sporadic ice formation on putting green. Photo: Kevin Frank, MSU.

Sporadic ice formation on putting green. Photo: Kevin Frank, MSU.

Winter weather continues to take us on a wild rollercoaster ride in 2017 as we alternate from snow and cold to rain, and temperatures that feel more like spring than winter. Along the way, golf course superintendents continue to be faced with difficult decisions on whether or not to remove ice from putting greens.

Following the devastating winterkill event on putting greens that occurred throughout the north following the 2013-2014 winter, it’s understandable that all efforts be made to minimize the risk of winterkill from ice cover. However, the winter we’re currently experiencing in Michigan is much different than the winter of 2013-2014 that resulted in thick ice sheets remaining in place for up to 80 days in some locations. That winter produced ice on putting greens the first week of January and it didn’t melt until March, which resulted in death from anoxia (suffocation). Remember, estimates of days of ice cover causing death for annual bluegrass range from 45-90 days. Read the Michigan State University Extension article, “What lies beneath: Ice?” for more about the effects of the 2013-2014 winter on putting greens.

What we’re experiencing, at least at this point, is short duration ice cover. It’s likely that after the rain and freezing rain that swept across most of Lower Michigan overnight on Jan. 11-12, 2017, and the subsequent temperature drop, that ice has or will form on some areas of putting greens. However, temperatures are forecast to be back into the mid- to upper 40s by early next week, and once again look to be accompanied by rain. The rollercoaster will continue.

So although anyone that suffered through past winterkill from ice cover considers any ice a big deal, at this time, I really don’t feel these short-term icing events are a big deal. Of course, that’s easy for me to say.

Dr. Frank’s work is funded in part by MSU’s AgBioResearch.

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