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Golf Tips from a Pro: The effects of Frost

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As we move into autumn here in Big Sky we also transition into the frost season at Big Sky Golf Course. In northern, temperate climates the effects of frost are a usual and common thing that most all understand. For those that grow up and/or live in the south, frost is a bit of a mystery and its effects can be misunderstood. So, what is frost and how does it need to be handled?

Frost is essentially frozen turf. Frost happens when the temperatures overnight start dipping in to the 30s. We have had certain days where frost even occurred with temperatures in the low 40s. Frost can happen in both the spring and fall but is more likely in the fall when the healthy turf starts to freeze overnight.   

There are multiple factors that decide how thick or light the frost will set in. When there is a clear night with little to no cloud cover and/or a full moon the frost sets in thicker and consequently will take longer to melt in the morning. Factors that limit frost are cloud cover and wind. If either of these are present it is less likely that we will have a frost and, if so, the frost won’t be as thick and will melt off sooner. 

So, why is this information important to golfers? It’s because if you walk on frosted turf you will end up killing the grass which leaves ugly and unsightly scars on the turf.

When someone walks on turf that is frozen or frosted, the grass blade breaks at the crown as a result. This is similar to clipping your nails too short. The grass blade now becomes extremely distressed and plant health fails. When this occurs the footprint will turn black and take weeks of warm weather and moisture to recover and become a healthy plant again. 

On golf courses where aesthetics are as important as playability, we need to avoid walking on frost at all times. This will ensure the health of the plant and keep the turf not only looking green but, when the plant is healthy, ultimately you will get better performing turf. Also, a healthy playing surface will recover faster from divots and cart/foot traffic, etc.

Now that we are in the frost season we are experiencing delays just about every morning due to frozen turf. Generally, once we get the green light, we start sending groups and get back on schedule usually within the first hour of starting play. What we ask of our golfers is that when you show up for that early morning tee time to be patient as we wait for the ground to warm. 

We also ask our residents that live on the course to please refrain from walking yourself and your dog on the course during the early morning hours so as to not kill the grass we work hard to keep green, playable, and as healthy as possible.  If you see someone walking on frost it is good to educate them on the correlating effects. As I mentioned earlier, most people don’t experience frost on a regular basis and even more people don’t understand what walking on frost does to the turf. 

Thanks to all the golfers in Big Sky and the surrounding areas for being such great stewards of the golf course. Because of our beloved neighbors and local residents we are able to have a healthy and beautiful course available year after year.

Mark Wehrman is the Head Golf Professional at the Big Sky Resort Golf Course and has been awarded the PGA Horton Smith Award recognizing PGA Professionals who are model educators of PGA Golf Professionals.

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