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Wet Christmas leaves superintendents waterlogged

With all due respect to Bing Crosby and every other crooner who made "Dreaming of a White Christmas" such a yuletide staple, there's a movement afoot to change the lyrics.

Myrtle Beach golf course superintendents plan to revise the classic into a singing prayer next year with the new title: "Dreaming of a Dry Christmas."

There's been so much rain along the Grand Strand over the past six weeks that golf courses and the men and women who manage them are pretty well waterlogged.

"It's important for golfers to realize that this has nothing to do with courses being over-irrigated," said Clay DuBose, certified golf course superintendent and general manager at The Tradition Club.

"The only reason any superintendent would irrigate at the moment is to water in an application of some kind or maybe to flush out or carry out maintenance on the system.

"Courses are wet because of the amount of rain we've had and the micro-climate at this time of year."

At The Tradition in Pawleys Island, that amount of rain stands at 16.5 inches since Nov. 12.

That's a lot of moisture to contend with even if it was the midst of summer.

But in winter, when the days are shorter and what sun there is rides low to the horizon, evapotranspiration rates plummet.

Evapotranspiration is the discharge of water to the atmosphere through evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plants.

It is a critical measure for golf course superintendents whose goal is to keep their turfgrass as healthy as possible using the least amount of irrigation.

Lower temperatures reduce evapotranspiration rates. Evaporation slows and plants consume less water.

The sun's lower angle slows the process even further because it throws larger areas under shade for longer periods.

Put all of that together with a lot of rain and golfers find themselves with more to combat than their nagging slice.

For a start, no one's drives are going to travel as far as they do in July.

Damp fairways suck momentum out of shots and the grass might be longer than normal because mowing has been postponed so heavy machinery doesn't churn the turf into mud.

Putting greens are generally the best draining surfaces on the course but they are still likely to be softer than would be considered ideal right now.

Because greens mowers are specially designed to minimize their impact on the putting surface, they can generally be used even when conditions are damp.

But if it rains during normal mowing time - i.e. early morning - superintendents might be forced to skip mowing for a day to allow golfers to play while the skies are clear.

Long grass on greens means slower putts and a greater susceptibility to scuffing from foot traffic.

Another common challenge for golf course superintendents during wet periods is bunker maintenance.

Heavy rains can wash large amounts of sand from a bunker face.

That sand, mixed with silt and other debris flushed from the course, settles in the low area of the bunker and can form a kind of cap that slows drainage.

Repairing bunkers - pushing sand back onto faces and breaking up compaction - is very labor-intensive and man-hours spent in the sand are hours not spent on other projects.

The cumulative effect of too much rain at the wrong time can be significant.

So while you may hear the odd squelch on your backswing at the moment, rest assured it's not because golf course superintendents have an itchy faucet-finger.

It's just that this has been a wet Christmas, not the white one of our dreams.