This winter has brought great joy to skiers and crushing sadness to golfers in the Northeast. I'm no mathematician, but by my calculations the snow will melt off courses by July. OK, probably sooner than that, but the courses around here are seriously covered.
A beacon of hope, however, has come in the form of black sand. The groundskeeper at fabled Fenway Park in Boston, David Mellor, has been popping up on social media, showing his success with using black sand to melt the ridiculous amount of snow on Fenway's grass.
This looked pretty encouraging, so I reached out to Kevin Doyle, the Northeast region's representative for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, to see if the black sand route is viable for golf courses. Turns out there are a lot of options for clearing snow, but black sand is definitely one of the best.
Due to the fact that there are huge amounts of snow, plowing is a natural first thought. "Mechanical removal can be the best start, as there is often an ice layer across the very top of the turf," Doyle says, "But [using a plow] can have unintended consequences as well." The last thing you need is to accidentally dig chunks out of your fairways.
That means the other option is to melt the ice. Doyle directed me to the work of another Kevin, Dr. Kevin Frank of Michigan State University, who has done a lot of research on the subject. In said research, he talks about dark-colored products like fertilizers, sunflower seeds and ... wait for it ... black sand. Doyle says, "Any one of those products will heat up significantly in sunshine, creating a warming effect that will move through ice, or reduce snow cover."
Two of these options, however, aren't without consequences. According to Doyle, "Any fertilizers used, while effective, can elicit unnecessary or unwanted growth when warmer temps happen. They also often move with the water as it melts, making it an uneven growth. Sunflower seeds would need to be removed off short grass, or blown into the tall grass."
As for black sand, there's no issue as working it into the turf is easy.
A word of advice from Doyle: "This time of year, the most hurtful situation to turf is the thaw-freeze-thaw cycle that can occur with melting during the day, and below freezing temperatures at night. It is almost more important to manage the water that is produced by melting snow than the snow removal itself." So if you're removing snow by melting it with black sand, make sure you're doing it when you know temperatures are going to stay above freezing.