In an all-to-familiar scenario: Giddy golfers from the Midwest escape the frozen tundra for the green fairways of the desert Southwest. As they eagerly file into the golf shop, the pro behind the counter drops the bad news. “Good morning guys. We are in a frost delay.”
Bewilderment, confusion and irritation typically follow this announcement. Understandably so, avoiding the frosty grip of Old Man Winter was the purpose of making the trip in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple; here’s a few facts to help break the ice.
While the average high temperature in Tucson December through February is a pleasant 66-70 degrees, the average low ranges from 42-45. And, a dozen or so times per year, they dip to 32 degrees or lower. According to an article in Golfweek, turf temperature lower than the surrounding air “causes moisture to condense on the grass during the night. If the temperature of the grass then falls below freezing, the moisture may crystallize into frost.”
By itself, this isn’t a problem; however, walking on the frosty turf certainly is. Each footstep damages the blades and ruptures plant cell walls. This is particularly pronounced on the tightly mown turf of the putting surfaces. They become no-go zones until the sun melts the frost.
To get a feel for the potential damage, next time your foursome makes tracks on a green covered in dew, note the countless footprints. If the dew was frost instead, the grass beneath most, if not all, of the footprints would be dead within a week or so.
“Staying off grass covered in frost is the key to avoiding permanent damage to the turf, especially on the greens,” said Dennis Palmer, general manager of Arizona National Golf Club and The Golf Club at Vistoso. “There’s simply no way around it. All we can do is hope it clears quickly, so we can get everybody lined up to tee off once it does.”
Given that Arizona boasts 300-plus days of sunshine each year, chances are good that “big red” will burn off the frost in plenty of time to get in all 18 holes.
Palmer went on to explain that there’s no way to predict the exact length of any given frost delay, so it’s “a good idea to arrive around the same time you normally would” and relax with a cup of coffee, get a bite to eat and watch the European Tour on Golf Channel in the clubhouse.
It seems counter intuitive to encounter a frost delay in the desert; rest assured, if there were any other way, the golf staff would be more than happy to oblige. Although golf is just a game, staying off frost-covered turf is a matter of life and death – for the grass!