Frost Delays- Why & When!
We're just wrapping up a pretty brutal stint of cold weather. And while we're not out of the woods yet, I'm thankful to have a few days of warmer temperatures. We have had frost present on the golf course 27 out of 30 days this month, and while not each of those resulted in a delay to golf, they did delay, or inhibit, our ability to complete necessary tasks on the golf course.
A growing misconception is that there is this conspiracy, driven by the maintenance staff (with help from the golf operations) to delay golf, even if there isn't frost. And while I'm sure this sounds silly to most, you would not believe the amount of comments we receive each year, stating just that.
So, WHY do we have frost delays? There are multiple layers to determining a frost delay. Weather, irrigation schedules, mowing requirements, and tee sheet requirements are all factors when determining if we need a delay, and if so, how long. So, how does weather impact frost? Temperature is obviously the driving force, but clouds, humidity, precipitation, and wind are all factor as well. Frost forms when the temperature is at or below freezing and forms in two ways. One, night time temperatures are below freezing so the moisture around the grass or within the cell's walls freeze, this causes what we would call a "hard frost". The other, and more common way frost forms here, happens at sunrise. As the sun rises and the atmosphere begins to warm, it forces cold air down cooling the Earth's surface and the moisture on the leaf blade can freeze. This can be compounded by dew point; if the air can't hold any more moisture, dew will form on the leaf blade, and if the temperatures are below freezing, the moisture in the air will go directly from gas to ice, in a matter of minutes. So sure, a thermostat on your patio might say 43, 44, 45 degrees at 5:00 am, but by sunrise it's probably reading 39, 40, 41 degrees... and if you were to move that thermostat to the surface of a fairway it would probably read 30, 31, 32 degrees. So when we arrive in the morning, we access the situation. If frost is present we determine how much frost their is and at what time we estimate the frost will melt. If frost is not present, we check the future weather forecast and access the amount of moisture on the leaf blade. With experience to this specific property, we are able to estimate how much frost will develop and at what time it will melt, fairly accurately. Despite the amount of knowledge and experience we have- it's still very much a guessing game. Once we have estimated when we think frost will melt, we then we have to consider what needs to be done in order to set the golf course up for that day. We also look at the tee sheet. Is there a reason we can justify deferring some maintenance until the next day? Or is it imperative we mow the entire golf course, regardless of the tee sheet? These factors can be a 1-2+ hour delay difference. A lot the think about!!!
Now that we know how frost develops and how we make our determination for a delay length, WHEN is the appropriate time to deliver that message? Well, as you see above there are numerous factors to consider when determining the delay, and things can change rapidly in the 30 minutes +/- to the sunrise. Because things can change so quickly, and because we like to deliver an accurate message to the membership, it would be wise not to deliver this message until AFTER the sun comes up. Unfortunately, often times we don't have much time between sunrise and the first tee time, so those first groups out in the morning aren't always given much of a heads up! Some things to consider when making an early morning tee time in the winter!
Frost management on a golf course is incredibly complex, and I understand how frustrating it can be to have your day shifted. I hope this gives a bit of insight into how we make our decision on delays. The health of the golf course is always at the forefront of our minds, but we understand we have a commitment to get golf out as soon as possible- and I'm confident that we do that each and every day.