Archive for Thursday, December 23, 2004

If it says 33 they’ll hit the tee

Winter weather doesn’t deter die-hards

December 23, 2004

Although last Friday provided as good of weather as a Kansas golfer can hope for in December -- sunny skies, mild wind and temperatures approaching the 50s -- Bill Palmer, a Shawnee resident and local golfer, came to Sunflower Hills Golf Course in western Wyandotte County armed to combat any potential nasty condition that came his way.

And part of that arsenal included a massive pair of gloves so thick that it would make the digits of a Himalayan Yeti sweat.

"You can't hold a golf club with them, but they keep your hands warm," Palmer said. "And some days that's all that matters."

Such is the case for winter golf in Kansas. In theory, playing golf year round is a good idea, but in practice, hitting the links is a dicey proposition at times. Palmer and one of his playing partners at Sunflower on Friday, Roy White of Bonner Springs, provided the majority and minority opinions on the subject.

"We've played a lot of times in the 30s, but I can't remember a time we've dipped into the 20s," White said. "It's great out here in the winter, though. It's like having our own private golf course."

But. . .

"Sometimes you're afraid to hit the greens because if they're frozen, the ball will skip right off of them," Palmer contends. "It's tough, but we do whatever it takes to play."

This past weekend's weather may have summed up the quandary Kansas golfers and greens keepers alike face each winter. On Friday and Saturday, temperatures neared the 50s and the sun shone bright. Both days provided as good of golfing days as local duffers are likely to see for the next several weeks.

On Sunday, however, old man winter must have been cranky -- though again the sun was shining, the temperature dropped to the 20s -- and the conditions outside weren't fit for man nor beast.

Richard Herries, the superintendent of Falcon Lakes Golf Course in Basehor, an 18-hole public course located north of Leavenworth Road just off Kansas Highway 7, said a big problem greens keepers face in the winter is battling moisture. Too much or not enough can prove detrimental to a course in the winter months, Herries said.

Each winter, Herries and his crew drain or "blow out" the hundreds of feet of irrigation lines feeding the 1,065 sprinkler heads at Falcon Lakes. They've done that recently, the superintendent said, but if a string of days without precipitation continues, Herries said "we'll have to fire up the system and then shut it down and drain it again."

The dicey proposition is this: without getting moisture to the course, the dry conditions could be harmful to the greens; firing up the system, though, which takes a day or two to shut down, could leave a wide enough timeframe for freezing weather to freeze water in the pipes.

Water in the pipes during freezing temperatures isn't something golf courses find alluring, Herries said. "If it freezes, it can bust a pipe and do a lot of damage," he said. But, so far so good for the three-years old Falcon Lakes -- the maintenance crew has navigated the winter minefield quite well, Herries said.

"The most we've really lost is two irrigation heads -- and that's a very reasonable loss," he said.

Ice is the biggest obstacle golf courses face in the winter. Snow on a golf course isn't ideal, but Kansas courses have been surviving it since they were built. "The style of grass we have in this area tends to handle the winter pretty well," the superintendent said. And snow, unlike ice, at least has pores that will allow the greens to breath.

Ice, on the other hand, "will completely seal it off," Herries said.

There isn't much a maintenance crew can do in those situations. Herries said last February, "the worst we've had it in 10 years," proved to be an uneasy time for him and his crew. The course has to be monitored carefully during those times, he said, and some fertilizers can be applied to improve the situation.

Another problem for golf courses during the winter months is the potential for desiccation, essentially a drying of both the upper portions of plants as well as its root system. Desiccation occurs when water is locked up as ice in and on top of the ground so moisture isn't available to the roots.

"It will actually kill the grass," Herries said.

In March, grounds keepers and golfers alike start to rest easier because the ground begins thawing and grass starts to grow. Until then, however, it's best to come to the course with a philosophy similar to Palmer if playing a round is your goal.

Herries, a veteran superintendent who's seen most everything on a golf course before, didn't blink when hearing about golfers like the ahead-of-the-game Palmer.

"Most people will draw the line at 40 degrees as long as the wind isn't blowing, but there are exceptions," he said. "To them, I'd say we're open year round."

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