Golf Column

Frost delays

By Paul Viau | Oct 29, 2013
Photo by: File

It’s that time of year again — when you make an early tee time, then arrive at the golf course to find out, “There is a frost delay.” Bad news, if you are trying to get in a round of golf before other planned afternoon activities.
A frost delay means that (if you really want to play that day) golf will probably be your only activity.
That’s why the phrase ‘frost delay’ is the third worst thing an avid golfer can hear, right behind “cart path only” and “You’re still away.” It drives most golfers crazy.
That is the only explanation I can imagine for the reaction I have often heard in the pro shop and at the starter stand — “There’s no frost at my house.”
Often, I’ve wanted to say in reply, “Then, why don’t you golf at your house? We’ll be delayed until 10:30.”
My best advice to help golfers deal with the inevitable frost delays during spring, winter and fall is this — “Keep cool.”
Sure, this sudden change of plans is going to complicate your day. You will have to start your round when the “starter” tells you to go, not your reserved tee time. And that delayed starting time given out by the pro shop is also likely to change. Here’s why.
A frost delay is a “guestimate” on how long it will take for frost to clear before golfers can go out on the course without doing any damage. The “guestimate” factors in the severity of frost, how long it will take for the sun (if there is any) to melt the frost, and when the grounds crew (who mow and groom the course ahead of play) can get started.
So what do you do while you’re waiting? I strongly recommend breakfast. Nothing calms a golfer down like a little bacon and eggs. The driving range may also be an option — if there is no frost on the hitting area.
Other than that, my best advice is to stay close-by, know what order you have when play starts, and check back with starter from time to time.
Often the grounds crew over-estimates how long the frost delay will be, because they don’t want to keep pushing back the start of play. What then happens is that the pro shop and starter get the “go ahead” and the players for the first scheduled tee time are nowhere to be found.
As a long-time starter, I have to tell you — This is real frustrating.
Another thing you might want to do while waiting for frost to clear is to use your smart phone and Google “golf course frost damage.”

You’ll find out that according to the GCSA (Golf Course Superintendants of America):
Frost is basically frozen dew that has crystallized on the grass, making it hard and brittle. A grass blade is actually 90 percent water, therefore it also freezes. Because of the short mowing height (sometimes as low as 1/8 inch) and fragile nature of the turf, putting greens are most affected by frost. Walking on frost-covered greens causes the plant to break and cell walls to rupture, thereby losing its ability to function normally. When the membrane is broken, much like an egg, it cannot be put back together.
Golfers who ignore frost delays will not see immediate damage. The proof generally comes 48-72 hours later as the plant leaves turn brown and die. The result is a thinning of the putting surface and a weakening of the plant. The greens in turn become more susceptible to disease and weeds. While it may not appear to be much of an issue if a foursome begins play early on frost-covered greens, consider the number of footprints that may occur on any given hole by one person is approximately 60. Multiply that by 18 holes with an average of 200 rounds per day and the result is 216,000 footprints on greens in a day or 6,480,000 in a month.
As golf enthusiasts, superintendents do not like to delay play, but they are more concerned about turf damage and the quality of conditions for the golfer.
So the next time you are face-to-face with a golf pro or starter over a “frost delay,” remember: (1) Keep cool, (2) Get bacon, (3) Know your place in the queue, and (4) pick up a copy of the Mountaineer, because starting in November this column will be full of great golf tips.