By Bruce Meadows
Good bye, 2020, hello 2021 . . .
Happy New Year !!!
This past year has been memorable, mostly for all the wrong reasons.
So many people have died, and depending on your political persuasions, many of those include deaths that might have been prevented by a more effective early response.
But as we move into the New Year, 2021, there are reasons for optimism.
The Covid-19 vaccines developed would appear to be highly effective, although new strains of the virus may prove problematic.
While the death toll mounts, there is reason to hope that more and more people will follow the simple rules for survival, like wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
Will taking these precautions keep you from contracting Covid-19? No, but there is solid scientific proof that they could help, not only you but those you love for starters. Think of yourself and those around you.
While the pandemic has been devastating for so many – individuals, families, businesses – it has not been so bad for certain sectors of our economy, including golf courses.
Every golf course operator with whom I contact talks about a surge in play as well as driving range activity.
Where I work at Fairgrounds Golf Course in Santa Rosa, we have experienced a tremendous increase in daily rounds . . . the days during the recent holidays has been especially busy on the course as well as the driving range.
The explanation, which has been widely published, is that while we can’t engage in the usual recreational activities, we can still golf.
It’s been my experience that the increase has been a mix of those who once played but gave up the game, only to return this past year, and a flurry of new players. And with some, a need to get the kids out of the house!!!
As one couple told me recently: “We used to go to the gym a lot, but when this (pandemic) happened, we started looking for other forms of recreation . . . we started golfing and we found out we really enjoy it.”
What about you???
How has this current situation and the pandemic affected you or your golf game as well as life in general?
Are you playing more or less? Have you started up after years of inactivity or are you taking up the sport for the first time?
I would like to hear about your experiences, so email me at [email protected] and share your experience.
When it gets cold in the morning . . .
At Fairgrounds GC, we had our first “frost delay” in early November. As I cautioned our golfers, “it will not be our last.”
We urged golfers who want to come out early on cold mornings, to call ahead and we will give you some idea when the delay may be lifted and you can tee it up. Save yourself a trip.
The latest we’ve had to wait – so far – is 9:15 a.m. although it has been later at other courses. We have few trees so the sun – when we have sun – helps send the frost on its way.
Frost is somewhat unpredictable . . . we’ve had no frost when the temperature dips to freezing (32 degrees) and we’ve had frost – and delays when the temps are in the mid- to high-30s.
That being said, here is some information to keep in mind during the present weather conditions.
It doesn’t have to be freezing for frost to form
Frost typically forms on turf over the course of chilly nights when the grass itself gets colder than the surrounding air. Any number of factors help create those conditions. Plain old temperature, of course, but also dew points, wind speeds, humidity and cloud cover. And then there’s the biggie: Wet Bulb temperature, which “is the temperature air cools to when you add water to the equation.” You know how the air feels colder when you lick your finger and hold it out? Same thing happens when grass gets wet. The surface temperature of the plant drops to the Wet Bulb temperature. If it drops low enough, frost can form (all the more likely in shaded or lower-lying areas of the course), even if the air temperature isn’t below 32F.
- It’s always coldest before the dawn
That poetic-sounding saying is grounded in scientific fact. When the sun goes down, the earth starts cooling off and continues doing so until the sun comes up again. Crews are mindful of this when they head out on their pre-dawn maintenance shifts, knowing that the frost-less course they first encounter might become a frosty course while they’re in the middle of their workWhen that happens, they’ll turn to other tasks, such as edging cart paths or tending mulch beds, that don’t involve treading or riding over frosty turf.
- The clearer the night, the frostier the dawn
You’ve probably noticed that frost delays are more common after clear, crisp nights. That’s because clouds trap heat, warming the atmosphere. If it’s overcast at night, you’ve got a better chance of being in the clear for your early morning tee time. If, on the other hand, the air is crisp and you can see the stars, don’t be shocked if you’re delayed by frost on your course at dawn.
- What’s the damage?
That depends on a range of factors, including the varietal of turf, the health of the grass, the severity of the frost and amount of activity the frosty turf endures. But here’s the gist: When grass gets frosted over, the water in its plant cells can freeze and expand. If you mow that grass in its frigid state (or trample on it, or ride your cart across it), those icy molecules can shatter. That’s not broken glass. It’s broken grass. That doesn’t mean you’ve killed the turf, which, in most cases, will recover. But you can see the impact soon after in discoloration It’s also more obvious when the damage is caused in early season frosts, in, say, late September or October, when the grass is still succulent and growing, and the discrepancy between healthy and unhealthy turf is clearer. It’s much less apparent later in the season, when the turf has started going dormant.
As a general rule, if there’s frost on the ground at Des Moines Country Club, golfers are not allowed on the course. Of course, if it’s just a tiny patch in the shade of a tree somewhere, we can ask the golfers not to drive or walk through it. “We try to let common sense prevail.”
But many other courses are looser with the rules, allowing golfers out in frosty conditions, most likely because they need the greens fees. The operator might just decide, they would rather deal with the frost damage than lose the revenue.”
- How to deal with frost at home
Back in the good old days, you could tell from the discolored footprints in his neighbors’ yards that the newspaper boy or girl had trampled on the grass when it was frosty. Not the end of the world. But if it’s not something you want, you could employ a superintendent’s trick and spray your lawn lightly with a hose. Maintenance crews sometimes do that to get frost off a green. But for a homeowner, he adds, that’s pretty much just a waste of water. It’s not like you need to use your lawn for revenue, You’re better off doing what is done at the golf course and just wait for the sun to come up and the frost to melt away.
Why the big change ???
Some thoughts I found online and wanted to share:
There were golfers in 2020 who never thought they’d be golfers. Or they had been before life intervened — kids, jobs, herniated discs. They coached soccer, or took spin classes. They packed trains every morning and shuffled home every night.
A game played in four-and-a-half hour increments wasn’t much of an option—until, abruptly, it was.
“I can’t tell you how many times someone would come in and say, ‘I used to play in high school but it’s been a while so I need a set of clubs and I need lessons,’” said Mike Laudien, the Director of Golf at Philip J. Rotella Golf Course in New York’s Rockland County.
Golf executives have long been preoccupied with finding ways to shake golf out of a period of stagnant growth. There have been strategy meetings and PowerPoint presentations now taking up space on hard drives. The concepts floated were met with varying degrees of success: Forward tees! Shorter rounds! Topgolf!
A pandemic strategy, one that disrupted virtually every element of life but somehow preserved and even fortified golf’s most important elements, was surely never part of the plan.
And yet at the end of 2020, golf can boast the type of surge in participation no bar graph projection would have dared make. According to the National Golf Foundation and Golf Datatech, there will end up being some 50 million more rounds played in 2020 than in 2019, a figure even more staggering considering how the season began. In April, May and June, golf rounds were actually down sharply because of shutdowns and general apprehension in the early days of the pandemic. But once golfers started showing up at courses, a confluence of time, favorable weather and a dearth of other options led to full tee sheets around the country straight through the fall.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said John Krzynowek, a partner at Golf Datatech. “A startling turnaround following a disastrous start to the spring,” Joe Beditz, president of the NGF, said in October.
A triumphant golf story requires context, however. Start with who precisely was driving the surge in play. According to NGF projections, there were 20 percent increases in both junior and beginning golfers this year, around 500,000 more in each category that many retailers experienced firsthand.
If more people played golf in 2020 than they had in years, it’s in part because their gyms and offices were closed, because the youth sports seasons were wiped from the calendar and because, especially early on, everything else seemed fraught with risk. One could argue the extent to which golf flourished is inversely proportional to the other parts of life that suffered. Which is to say, people weren’t just flocking to golf, but away from everything else.
Many said “It was the only game in town.”
What solace there is to take from such an equation extends beyond self-interest, but in embracing the role golf played in steering people through some of the darkest hours of the pandemic. The game represented an outlet and a distraction, and an opportunity for the type of social connection that Instagram or Zoom couldn’t foster. Maybe it wasn’t that golf was the only game in town, but the right game for the moment.
Only the tone deaf among us would say we don’t know what to root for. Because the other part to consider is that those who played more golf than ever in 2020 did so by virtue of good fortune. Plenty of others had work they couldn’t do from afar, or lost jobs altogether, to say nothing of the millions who fell victim to the virus themselves. Which is why the most exuberant participation statistics from 2020 are tempered by a sobering contrast: According to the NGF, more people also left golf behind in 2020 than in recent years.
Short of survivor’s guilt, those of us who remain should at least take to the golf course the sort of perspective this year delivered in abundance—about how we spend our time, and who with, how it all could be pulled out from under us at a moment’s notice. Much as we tried to keep distance from one another this year, that was still something we could all embrace.
Let’s hear from you . . .
Thanks for your comments, questions and suggestions. I appreciate getting them and would like to get as many as possible. If you have information about anything golf-related, including upcoming clinics, activities, tournaments or sales, let me know. And if you have questions, complaints or compliments about golf in our area, I want to hear them.
If you have a golfer – pro or amateur — you know who you think would make an interesting story, tell me about it and I will take it from there. Having trouble with your game? Let me know what it is and I’ll try to get an answer for you from a local pro.
We would be proud to include you as one of our sponsors – thanks to Bill Carson at Wine Country Golf for his continued support – so if you care to get some details about being a sponsor of GOLF 707, email me at [email protected]