Some golf course superintendents on the Grand Strand feared an ice storm and several consecutive days of cold weather in early January might affect the condition of their Bermudagrass, which has been dormant over the winter.
In many cases, their fears are being realized and will continue to be realized into the summer as winterkill is discovered when temperatures for Bermuda growth return.
Most Strand courses overseed, and the full impact of winterkill won’t be realized until the overseed grasses die off – generally in late May – and reveal winterkill damage.
So playing conditions at those courses will remain good through the spring golf season.
“If you’ve got the overseeded greens you’ll be okay until Memorial Day,” said Max Morgan, vice president of agronomy for Founders Group International, which operates 22 Strand golf courses. “It’s kind of why we do it, to guarantee ourselves a decent spring.”
Winterkill affects warm-season grasses, and Bermuda is the predominant turf on greens, tees, fairways and roughs in the Carolinas. Only about 10 Strand courses have the cool-weather bentgrass on putting surfaces.
Damage is being discovered throughout the Carolinas, according to the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association, and is showing up across the spectrum, from high-end private facilities to low-budget courses, though courses that have green covers that are used in extreme cold have a higher likelihood of preserving the grass on their greens.
A handful of courses on the Grand Strand have covers, including The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Tidewater Golf & Plantation and Pine Lakes Country Club.
The CGCSA reports that the impact ranges from minimal to almost complete loss of the putting surfaces.
“The winter injury is spotty across the Carolinas,” said Bruce Martin, plant pathologist at the Clemson Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence who works with superintendents in the state to diagnose and treat damaging conditions and diseases. “In general around Myrtle Beach and Calabash, those courses without turf covers fared the worst. We are just now getting to weather where we should grow Bermudagrass and slowly heal weak areas.
“In some cases where greens were planted in the summer of 2017 there was damage since the grass was still immature.”
On the Strand, damage is believed to be widespread but minimal in most cases.
Morgan said FGI’s 22 courses are “seeing a little bit here and there. It was an extremely hard winter. It didn’t hit 40 degrees [in 2018] until 11 am on Jan.8. It was a long cold snap. The duration of it is what killed us.
“It’s not every hole. It might be something you’re not worried about and it will grow in over the summer. . . . As of right now I don’t anticipate we’ll have to close courses or have temporary greens.”
A snow and ice storm – the south end of the Strand got mostly snow – came in the midst of the early cold spell. The snow cover helped insulate the grass from the cold air, and Morgan said FGI’s courses south from Murrells Inlet are all in good shape.
Martin said weather conditions through the remainder of the winter didn’t help matters.
“It did not help that March was actually colder than February, so Bermudagrass greened up in February then successive frosts in March injured it further so some have seen later damage due to that situation,” Martin said.
Courses that didn’t overseed fairways or greens may see damage emerging now, and the damage is now showing up in the rough on many courses, as few courses overseed rough any longer.
Several factors can make certain areas of golf courses more susceptible to winterkill.
Those areas include north-facing slopes that don’t get as much heat from the sun as south-facing slopes, areas of high traffic such as golf cart ingress and egress, shaded areas, areas with poor drainage that often leaves standing water, and areas where grass was cut too low for an extended period, weakening the plant.
“Usually when you have winterkill it's multiple factors stacking up on you,” Morgan said.
Because Bermudagrass sprawls as it grows, most areas affected by winterkill will recover as Bermuda grows over the summer. Course operators may choose to sod harder hit areas for immediate repair, though the anticipated demand for sod might lead to a shortage at sod farms and a waiting period in the Carolinas.
“Recovery time varies and it is dependent on many factors,” said Eric Covelli, the superintendent at Arcadian Shores Golf Club who is the acting president of the Grand Strand’s Palmetto Golf Course Superintendents Association. “As to whether you want to sod or grow it back in, sod obviously is the quick fix. Growing it back in will take time and effort. Both are adequate remedies. It just depends on how long you are willing to look at a damaged green.”
Arcadian Shores had new Sunday ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens installed last summer that would presumably be susceptible to the winterkill because of their infancy, but Covelli said he believes the damage is minimal and recovery shouldn’t be a major issue. The greens are overseeded with poa trivialis.
The United States Golf Association will hold a winterkill recovery seminar on April 30 at Pine Lakes Country Club to help superintendents cope. It will feature USGA Green Section agronomist Patrick O’Brien and other experts.
Redman's decision upcoming
Following a finish of 50th at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, Clemson University sophomore Doc Redman has a big decision to make in the next couple months.
Redman, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion from Raleigh, N.C., and member of the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup Team, has to determine if he is going to turn pro this summer or return to Clemson for his junior year.
Redman has played in three PGA Tour events this year, making the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational but shooting a 77 in the final round to finish 71st at 5-over 293, missing the cut at the Masters and finishing 50th at 1-under 283 in the Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Redman shot a 1-over 72 in windy conditions in the final round in a group with defending Heritage champion Wesley Bryan and two-time major champion Zach Johnson. “It was a lot of fun out there playing with Wes and Zach, it was a great group,” Redman said. “I’ve had a great time.
“The main goal out here is trying to learn as much as I can, and this was another opportunity to do that. . . . Other than the result I just wanted to learn as much as I could about my game and the courses out here and the other guys, and what I could improve most, and I think I’ve done a great job of that.”
He has exemptions into the U.S. Open and British Open – as long as he remains an amateur – along with a sponsor invite into the Memorial in late May and likely invite into the Quicken Loans National in late June.
“Hopefully I have a good enough career where I can play a lot of those open tournaments,” Redman said. “It’s just another thing to think about.”
Redman has played in four of Clemson’s eight tournaments this season.
Clemson has finished first, second and second in its past three events without Redman.
“It will be good to be back with the team,” Redman said. “I miss those guys a lot and they’ve been doing great while I’ve been gone, so I’m excited to get back with them.”
The Tigers next have the ACC Championship from Friday through Sunday, likely an NCAA regional from May 14-16 and possibly the NCAA Championship, which ends with the championship match on May 29.
“Hopefully we go really deep in the NCAA Tournament and I do miss a lot of the prep for the Memorial,” Redman said.
The Memorial begins two days after the NCAA championship match, and Redman could tee it up as a professional there. “There’s a possibility, definitely,” Redman said. “I still have to talk to everyone about it.”
Redman said those who will help him make a decision on his pro career include his parents, coaches at Clemson and a few other trusted friends and advisors.
He may seek other exemptions into PGA Tour events, but said he’s only likely to do that if he turns pro. “I think those sponsor exemptions are really for professionals trying to get their card and make money,” Redman said. “Although it would be great to play as an amateur, people are doing it for their job.”