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Alaon Blondin on Grand Strand Golf: Winter weather the culprit of damaged greens

One of the coldest and wettest winters of the past few decades in South Carolina took its toll on many courses across the state, including some on the Grand Strand.

Particularly hard hit were Pine Lakes Country Club and Oyster Bay Golf Links, which are in the process of recovering from damaged greens.

"What that number [of courses damaged by the cold winter] is I don't know, but it was enough to raise attention," said Tim Kreger, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association.

Superintendents across the state feared winter kill on warm-weather Bermudagrass greens. Winter kill is a condition in which the cells in grass blades explode, and the amount of rain combined with the prolonged and extreme cold this winter was considered more than sufficient to cause it.

"It was frozen so long, the ice that builds in the walls causes the cell walls to rupture," said Randy Allen, senior director of golf and grounds maintenance for Burroughs & Chapin Golf Management, which operates 10 Strand courses. "It's just something that doesn't repair itself."

The wetness also made greens more susceptible to diseases coming out of the winter, as the winter overseed grasses died off to reveal what was left the Bermudagrass.

A couple of courses in the Upstate and Midlands had serious problems with the disease known as dead spot despite spraying what they thought were the necessary chemicals to treat it entering the spring.

Winter kill appears to be the primary culprit on the Strand. There are still a number of area courses that feature the cool-weather bentgrass on greens, and putting surfaces on those layouts were largely unaffected.

The overwhelming majority have Bermuda because of the proliferation in the past decade of ultradwarf Bermuda grasses including TifEagle, Champions, Mini-Verde and Emerald. Damage on the Bermuda greens was less than many Strand superintendents expected.

"It was a scary winter for maintaining grass," Allen said. "I think overall damage in our area was less than what we thought it might be. I was really concerned about the ultradwarfs and we're not seeing a lot of damage in this area as far as ultradwarfs."

But the first full-blown experiment with Paspalum grass on the Strand didn't go well through the tough winter. SeaDwarf Paspalum, a warm-weather grass that is considered highly resilient and can tolerate marginal water quality, was installed wall-to-wall at Pine Lakes in 2008 and the course reopened in 2009.

Before Rivers Edge Golf Club in Shallotte, N.C., changed its greens to SeaDwarf Paspalum last summer, Pine Lakes was the northernmost course to extensively use the grass. It has become fairly prevalent in Florida and is on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

"We had some damage on the Paspalum that I know was attributed to cold. It was certainly one of the contributing factors," said Allen, who also believes heavy traffic on the course also affected the Paspalum, particularly in shaded areas. "We knew it was going to be a learning process because it's different than anything else."

Paspalum is considered an aggressive grass with a dense root system. But it has been slow to show top growth in a few areas on greens at Pine Lakes this spring.

"With the root system the Paspalum has, I thought it would make it forever. You're just not expecting to see the things we're seeing," Allen said. "There's a lot of stuff we're doing to get through this.

"We've learned a lot and we'll make some changes. I think we'll be better prepared next time, and I don't look for next time to roll around for several more years. Fortunately winters like this are more the exception than the rule. We had it out there two winters and we didn't see any damage last year."

Rivers Edge superintendent John Shaver said his Paspalum greens came out of the winter healthy, better even than a few shaded areas on Bermuda tee boxes.

At Oyster Bay, former head superintendent at Legends Resort Tom Haddock was brought in to repair and sod many of the greens, and they are improving, though Haddock is no longer at the course. Six greens needed the most work.

"Winter kill was a major contributor to the problem, combined with shade, high traffic and salt [in the water]," Haddock said. "They're well on their way already. Within the next two weeks they should be right up there with everybody else on the beach."

The heat of this spring has been welcomed by superintendents trying to fill in areas with their warm-weather grasses. "I think most of the Bermuda guys here have fared fairly well," said Dunes Club superintendent Steve Hamilton, an area director of the CGCSA. "I think all the warm season guys are growing grass. If they had any issues they should be doing good in the next week or so."

Simson, Strantz selected to Carolinas Hall of Fame

Renowned course designer Mike Strantz, whose layouts include Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Plantation, and accomplished amateur champion Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C., have been voted the 2010 inductees into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame.

Simson and Strantz will become the 68th and 69th members in the hall during an induction ceremony Aug. 23 at Pinehurst Resort.

The late Strantz, an Ohio native, was working the grounds crew for the 1978 U.S. Open in Toledo when he was discovered by Tom Fazio. Strantz helped Fazio sculpt such noted courses as Wild Dunes, Wachesaw Plantation and Wade Hampton.

Eight years later, Strantz moved to the Charleston area to begin his own design career. Over the next two decades he built a legacy as an innovative architect. Golf World named him 1998 Golf Architect of the Year, Golfweek listed him among the 10 Greatest Architects of All-Time in 2000, and Golf Digest includes a number of his courses in its annual ranking of the Top 100 Modern Courses in America.

Caledonia was his first solo course in 1994, and his other courses include Bulls Bay in Awendaw, Tobacco Road and Tot Hill Farm in North Carolina, Royal New Kent and Stonehouse in Virginia, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course in California. Cancer cut Strantz's life short in 2005.

Simson has won 22 Carolinas Golf Association championships, second only to Hall member Dale Morey's 24. The 59-year-old insurance executive is a four-time North Carolina Amateur champ (1991, '96, '00 and '04), four-time Carolinas Mid-Am champ (1990, '91, '94 and '97) and four-time N.C. Senior Amateur champ (2006, '07, '09 and '10).

In addition, Simson twice won the Carolinas Amateur (1991, '95) and Carolinas Senior Amateur (2007, '08). He was an All-American at New Mexico, two-time winner of the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst, and a two-time British Senior Amateur champion.

Members of the Carolinas Golf Reporters Association, and members of the N.C. and S.C. course ratings panels selected the inductees. Other members of the Hall include Billy Joe Patton, Betsy Rawls, Arnold Palmer, Donald Ross, Ray Floyd, Peggy Kirk Bell, Charlie Sifford, Beth Daniel, Jim Ferree and Fazio.

The public can attend the dinner and induction ceremony at The Carolina in Pinehurst. Contact Betsey Mitchell at 910-470-1691 or bets4golf@nc.rr.com to register.

Twilight scrambles offered

At least a few Strand courses are giving golfers a chance to play fun and competitive golf after work. The International Club of Myrtle Beach and Mystical Golf courses Man O'War, The Wizard and The Witch are offering early evening nine-hole scrambles on Thursdays.

The International Club of Myrtle Beach has nine-hole, four-person captain's choice scrambles with no handicaps beginning at 5 p.m. A $35 entry fee includes a cookout-style dinner and one raffle ticket for prizes. Additional raffle tickets and 50-50 drawing are available. Registration for new players begins at 5 p.m. on Fridays.

The Buffalo Wild Wings Twilight Scrambles begin at 5:30 p.m. and rotate on the three Mystical Golf courses. The four-man captain's choice tournaments cost $28 per person and include prizes, a possible raffle, and appetizers and a buffet at Buffalo Wild Wings following play. Sign up at Buffalo Wild Wings before 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

Family fun on course

Nine of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday's Summer Family Golf Tournaments are scheduled this summer, beginning Wednesday. The single-day events are designed for all ages and ability levels in a family-friendly environment. The series is in its 23rd year.

Events will be every Wednesday through Aug. 18 at a different Myrtle Beach area course. All junior golfers, 16 and younger, play for free with a paying adult. Participation in a tournament generally costs $40 for adults, including a cart and the chance to win closest-to-the-pin and long-drive prizes.

The tournaments have three divisions - open, couples and adult/youth - and feature a captain's choice format. To register or for more information call 1-800-833-8798 or visit summerfamilygolf.com.

To view Blondin's blog, 'Green Reading', or Q&A Forum 'Ask Al,' go to TheSunNews.com.

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