What are the effects of winter weather on a golf course?

A study of winter weather effects and ice damage on golf courses using sensors implanted in greens by Michigan State University’s turfgrass program is being funded in part by the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation.

Kevin Frank, MSU professor and turf extension specialist, said the MTF funded the purchase of six sensors that have been installed at six Michigan courses and are currently collecting data, including soil moisture and temperature at three depths as well as measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. A cell connection updates the data on the greens through the winter.

“We are trouble-shooting now, finding out if they are going to work and a goal of this is hopefully to develop something that could be commercialized where a course could purchase it and install on, say, a problem green to monitor conditions,” Frank said.

“This is the first year with the sensors. We are kicking the tires and figuring it out. If we have success and collect data this year we can develop a data base at some point and then develop from there a model to assist the superintendents with their winter issues and decisions on what to do.”

Frank said multiple efforts have been made in the study of ice damage and winter kill since the winter of 2014 when an ice layer formed on many courses in northern states causing unprecedented damage across the Midwest.

“It was a huge issue here and elsewhere in 2014 and there are still quite a few courses susceptible to these winter problems each year,” he said. “We hope to get to a point where we can provide real-time data to help superintendents make decisions.”

Carey Mitchelson, executive director of the MTF and the director of operations at College Fields Golf Club in Okemos,  said the hope is for the study to help superintendents find ways to produce healthier turf each spring.

“Superintendents work hard on it every year, but a lot of it is guessing and going on what worked or was tried the year before as in tarps on greens, different fertilizers in the fall, clearing snow from greens, those kinds of things,” he said. “What we don’t have is a systematic approach and data to pull from. What we will never be able to do is predict winter weather, but if we can take some of the guesswork out of it with data, it gives superintendents help for what is a serious problem.”

The research is being conducted in conjunction with several other universities. A group at the University of Minnesota developed the sensors that are being used.

Frank said the universities as a group will apply for a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s specialty crop research initiative, which would help expand the program. Currently six courses in Michigan, 10 in Minnesota and one on Norway have sensors accumulating data.

“This is what we do, provide research, and a grant would certainly help,” he said. “The MTF and other groups that provide funds and resources have made what we are doing now possible. We’re going to continue working on this because it’s so important to the golf courses.”

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