December 18, 2014

Winter delaying golf course openings

Tim Barnum
The marker for the first tee box at the Rifle River Golf Course remains surrounded by snow.
Tim Barnum
Although some patches of grass are appearing, much of the Pine River Golf Course in Standish remains covered by snow.
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ARENAC COUNTY — Eager golfers accustomed to hitting the links in late March or early April will have to wait in the clubhouse a little longer before teeing off this year.

“This weather is definitely going to hamper us opening like we normally do,” said Tom Goike, owner of the Pine River Golf Course in Standish. “Normally, the guys would be out there working, and usually sometime in March or the beginning of April, we open.”

But with several weeks with low temperatures below zero degrees and above-average snowfall, this winter has been far from normal.

“The way the weather is this year here — and we haven’t even gotten to flooding once all this snow melts — we’re probably going to be behind at least three, four weeks,” Goike said.

Like the Pine River Golf Course, Knoll View in Au Gres will also be behind schedule, according to owner Brian Knoll.

“It’ll probably be the middle of April. It might be the third week of April,” he said. “Usually we’re open the last week of March or the first week of April.”

Tom Ham, the golf pro at Huron Breeze Golf Course in Sims Township, said as winter ends all golf courses are dependent on weather, but Huron Breeze typically gets an early jump on other courses due to its location.

“Mother Nature always dictates our schedule, so if we get some warm temperatures and rain,” he said. “We’re on sand so we usually get open before other places.”

“We usually get open pretty quick as soon as the frost gets out of the ground, but for me to guess when that happens, I’m not going to guess,” Ham continued.

Rick Moll, owner of the Rifle River Golf Course in Sterling, said he has been open by St. Patrick’s Day in the past, and is usually open by Good Friday, but cannot see opening this year in the near future.

“It’s looking like it’s going to be toward the end of April, unless something drastically changes in the weather,” he said. “I’m just waiting for when Mother Nature says it’s OK.”

While Goike said there is typically some flooding early in the season at Pine River, Ham and Knoll said it is not typical at their respective courses.

“We don’t get a lot of flooding here,” Knoll said. “We’re right along Big Creek, so sometimes when that thaws it comes up a little, but it’s been thawing slowly, so hopefully we won’t get a lot of flooding this year.”

“Our course drains very well. We’re on sand,” Ham said. “If you’ve ever poured a cup of water on a sandy beach, it just disappears.”

That doesn’t mean the course won’t suffer from sitting under a blanket of snow all winter, though.

“If the frost sits in the ground and it’s frozen, that water doesn’t have anywhere to go, so it can be problematic that way,” he said. “That’s the least of our concerns. We’re more concerned how long the turf has been under a bed of snow.”

According to Ham, certain types of grasses called bent grass are used on the course, and it can die if oxygen is cut off due to ice and snow covering the turf.

“There are certain forms of bent grass that will only survive under snow for a certain number of days,” he said. “Generally, it’s 90 to 100 days, and we’re right at that threshold right now. Those are concerns that everyone is having statewide.”

If grass on the course dies, it could create some extra work in preparing the course for the season, Ham said.

“You have to reseed and just go through your cultural practices to try to get it rejuvenated,” he said. “There are things that you can do with different fertilizers and seeds. I don’t even want to think about that honestly.”

Knoll said despite the long, cold, difficult winter, it does not seem like dead grass should be a problem this year.

“If you get rains through the winter, you get that ice layer, and then you get snow on top,” he said. “We didn’t seem to get that a lot this year. The ice cuts the oxygen off.”

As ready as people are getting to start golfing, Moll said he is equally as ready to start grooming the course for play.

“I’m just as eager to getting back going and cutting grass and working on the golf course,” he said.

A representative from Singing Bridge Golf Course could not be reached for comment.

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