Ask a super
Why temporary greens can be so important for your golf course
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Winter golfers shouldn’t be course-condition critics, but we are. For golfers living in north climates and squeezing in January or February rounds, you might be playing on temporary greens—often cut to fairway height—and asking, “Is this really necessary?”
To learn more about the risks of playing on regular greens during the winter, we talked with Paul Dotti, Director of Grounds at Arcola Country Club, which co-hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2022 and ranks among the top 20 golf courses in New Jersey. Under Dotti’s leadership, the Paramus track ranks among the best conditioned courses in the tri-state area, according to our panelists.
Dotti says the decision of whether to close the greens during colder months largely depends on grass type. “If you have bentgrass, it goes dormant earlier in the fall and wakes up later in the spring,” he says. “Poa annua is more active in the fall and gets going earlier in the spring.”
Since Poa is more active in cooler temperatures, it can better withstand the ball marks and foot traffic of winter play. If your course has bentgrass greens, on the other hand, your superintendent may be reluctant to allow play on them during the winter, Dotti says.
“Bent doesn’t recover as well from traffic,” he says. “If you constantly have foot traffic, then all winter, bentgrass greens will start thinning, and they just can’t recover.”
Much of the damage occurs when temperatures are mild during the day and below freezing at night, causing the greens to constantly freeze and thaw. When that happens, Dotti says, the top layer of the greens begins to thaw, which creates plenty of footprints and further problems.
Normally during the warmer months, footprints and ball marks heal quickly, but colder temperatures prevent the grass from recovering. “When you get ball marks in the winter, that becomes a problem,” Dotti says. “They don’t heal, and foot traffic doesn’t heal. You also can’t change cups to move the wear patterns around.”
“You’ll begin to damage the soil structure by having footprints on them,” he continues. “Ball marks will recover over time, but winter is a time for the greens to get a break and recover from the season before.”
It may sound like Dotti is firmly against leaving the greens open during the winter, but not so. At Arcola, he strives to leave 18 greens open all winter. He can do that because when ball marks fill in during the spring, Poa annua grows. Since Arcola has Poa greens, Dotti wants as much Poa as he can get, unlike courses with bentgrass greens, where the new Poa spots would cause uneven playing surfaces.
To prepare for the winter, Dotti aerates the greens at the end of the season and top dresses them with sand to “protect the crown of the plant,” he says. “Soft spikes leave marks on the green, so if we can put a nice coating of sand on the greens, they’re still puttable.”
Whether a course has bent grass or Poa annua greens, Dotti recognizes that every superintendent has their own opinion on whether greens should stay open through the winter. During a mild winter like we are experiencing so far this year, that decision may be more important than usual, given the constant freezing and thawing.
“What you do with the greens in January and February can hurt you and people don’t realize it could come back and bite you in July,” Dotti says. “Damage to the soil structure or the actual plants themselves doesn’t show up until it gets pretty hot out.”
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