Ready For Spring

By Blake Halderman, CGCS, Brae Burn Country Club

They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb—and there is certainly some truth to this age-old weather idiom. While the beginning of the month is normally still a time for finishing tree work and other winter projects, in most cases, by the middle of March you can pretty much count on weather that is at least warm enough to melt any remaining snow.  

However, for superintendents around the Met Area, we know all too well that unpredictable weather patterns of this month also make it one of the most daunting times on the entire calendar. Some years can be very cold, with the course still shut down and our crews needing to chip ice off of greens that have been gasping for air over the winter. In other years, the temperature can pop up into the 70’s, leaving us scrambling to fire up the irrigation system and hoping we don’t get a cold snap afterward. These extremes make planning during March very difficult.

It is always a nice sign that spring is coming when you start to see some daffodils, tulips or crocuses popping through the grass—signals that it’s time to get out the rakes, vacuums, blowers and other equipment for a full cleanup. If you are lucky, the ice suffocation did not result in lost turf over the winter. There is no worse feeling than when you walk on the green and you can see, or even smell, the areas where turf is not going to make it because it is typically out of your control.      

Once we have the crew in full swing and late March approaches there are a number of important decisions to make that will play a big part in determining success for the rest of the reason. While there are many important issues to tackle going into a new year, one of the most critical areas of focus are the greens. The following steps are all part of this evaluation process on this sensitive part of the course where golfers will be taking almost half their shots in a given round:

  1. Making the Cut:

    What is the proper date of the first cut and at what height should it be done? This has to be timed just right to start getting the greens in shape for the year. Prior to getting the mowers out there, the greens have to be rolled to smooth out the surfaces from any heaving that occurred during the winter. The ground can’t be too hard or too soft, or major damage can be done.

  2. The Right Stuff:

    Every golf course, and even greens within the same eighteen holes, can require their own special disease, seedhead and insect control. Looking back at past years and identifying problems before they emerge is vital to prevent problems later on in the year.

  3. The Hole Truth:

    While it can be disruptive to play and requires a great deal of labor from the maintenance crew, aeration in the spring is one of the most important aspects of the spring program to get not only greens, but tees and possibly fairways in the best shape possible. Much like identifying the right time to start cutting and how best to prevent turf disease, scheduling and completing this work at the optimal stage of the spring is a key for season-long success. While March might be too early to perform this task at many Met Area clubs, this work must be planned accordingly.

Even though the thermometer and calendar may say that golf season is here, March is still a time when superintendents have a great deal to evaluate and get ready for as golfers make their way back to the course. Through experience and patience, superintendents must make the right decisions that will pay dividends once things start to heat up even more. As tough as it can be to handle the curveballs Mother Nature can throw at us this time of year, it is also a very exciting time for all as opening day is upon us.