Going for the Green

Robert Thompson's comments, criticism and opinion on the world of golf.

50 responses to “Ontario courses with poa greens struggle to deal with cold weather carnage”

  1. Armen Suny


    Great job! People need to understand that you can rebuild and re-grass greens but if the fundamentals are not addressed, this will only offer you a brief respite from future problems.

    These key basics of good turf grass maintenance remain unchanged: sun, surface drainage and air movement. Without these, all you have left is hope and prayers, oh yeah, and more dead grass.


  2. syd bean

    I will ruffle a few feathers with these comments but I think they should be noted. Some of these courses and Superintendents have fallen victim to circumstances beyond their control but a good number are a victim of their own mismanagement. The poorly managed courses and their Superintendents are piggy backing off of the truly unfortunate and covering up their own shortcomings. There are a lot of Superintendents at very good and exclusive clubs that are much better at the political side than they are at the agronomic side and this is what has got them to where they are today. There are plenty of places in Canada that experience winters like Toronto has just had every single year and I can tell you that those Superintendents are not losing turf like the GTA. There is a mentality among select courses that if one club does it than the other must do it as well and this is a large contributing factor to why so many clubs with astronomical budgets have lost their turf together. Maybe you should spend some time investigating some more average courses and not focus so exclusively on the upper echelon clubs that follow each others practices and spend without thought. Money will only get you so far.

  3. concerned

    Syd, your comments are bang on!!. Unforutunatly ownerships are so used to having wool pull over they’re eyes they don’t remember what proper cultural practices can do to save them money and in turn improve the long term health of the course overall. With the recession we had courses can no longer afford to spend as much while competing for the same consumers who have very little recreational money to spend in their family/personal budgets. I don’t believe a lot of golf clubs have adapted well to this, with the exception of some clubs who continue to move forward with little economical impact to they revenues. So my question is, what about the courses that survived with little to no problems?, should they not be praised?, what did they do with their turf?. Surely I am not the only one who is asking if we are all a little to comfortable in our own positions. This is a reality check many of us should not take lightly. It might be time for everyone to rethink how we run our clubs. I smell a big chemical push coming this fall, which I do not agree with.

  4. ki

    I don’t think they did read it. Older courses with a heavier population of poa annua in their greens really didn’t stand a chance this winter. Whether it be low temperature kill, desiccation or what have you, all the elements conducive to those types of injury were in play.
    Bentgrass is much more tolerant to these conditions, and while it is easy to point fingers and say” you should have managed your turf to promote bent grass”, the fact of the matter is, poa will invade over time via turf stress,disease, ball marks, etc.
    More chemicals would not have prevented this. The situation is simple, poa annua greens are the weaker sister, and these clubs should realize that biting the bullet and seeding to bent grass is their best long term solution.Even if it shortens their playing season.

  5. 5150

    Concerned: you smell a big chemical push? Please explain what this has to do with chemicals.

  6. 5150

    Syd: how do we know which courses have fallen to circumstances beyond their control and which are victims of their own mismanagement? Do you know something that you’re not sharing?

  7. Dick Kirkpatrick

    Wow, can you imagine what it would be like to have two guys like concerned and Syd on your green committee if you were a superintendent?

    I know that their home lawns must be the very best in their neighbourhoods, considering their superior knowledge in agronomy.

  8. Michael Greenhill

    After reading Robert Thompson’s excellent analysis and then scrolling down through the comments, you can certainly tell who is qualified to comment and who is not. Syd and Concerned….who are you guys anyway?

    1. Hannes Broschek

      Michael you are right on! What do concerned and Syd know? “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING”

  9. dblatman@bell.ca

    As a complete layman – I don’t even have a lawn at home – after reading the article and comments, it seems that the solution is to replace all greens with appropriate bent grass. Two questions: approximately how much would this cost a club in the GTA? After this is done, how would it shorten the season (as mentioned in one the comments)?

  10. syd bean

    More than you think Hannes. Again Robert, you mention the Paintbrush. The average course could not pull off what the Paintbrush accomplished. Any of the private courses in the GTA could but very few public courses could.

  11. Dick Kirkpatrick


    I believe the Paintbrush greens were re-seeded, not sodded.

  12. David

    I was surprised the article didn’t include comments from Alberta green keepers who have been facing this problem for years. They fight poa with all available tools annually. Eventually, they begin to lose that fight and at that point, rather than taking risks, the green is replaced.

    1. 5150

      If you’re going to make a comment like that, you better have some examples…and not just one golf course.

      P.S. Some of us can easily check on the truth behind these comments.

  13. meatballgolf

    Great articles and good comments. Throughout this disaster ( and my club is affected) it is good to have a dialogue between membership and greenskeeper. What I am sick of are comments like Dick Kirkpatricks, Micheal Greenhills and Hannes Broschek that run along the lines of ” you’re not a greenskeeper so you know nothing”. To those people I say no I am not a greenskeeper but I am a golfer whose membership helps pay your salary. I am now playing at other courses that are not affected and asking why ? I like to hear solutions not excuses. The fact that other courses are similarly destroyed is not an excuse. More open dialogue and respect between member and greenskeeper is essential to solutions, not professional snobbery.

    1. Syd Bean

      Very well stated meatballgolf.

  14. 5150

    Syd: Still waiting to hear how you decided which courses truly had a problem and which are victims of their own mismanagement. Open, honest dialogue is a two way street isn’t it?

  15. john Mcnaughton

    Mill Run Golf and country club have NOT HAD ANY SIGNIFICANT damage to our greens I played 18 of our 27 holes yesterday Apr.28 of our and all the greens were rolling beautifully. What a treat to have the course in mid season form in late April. Thanks to all our group staff and especially Rod Speake our superintendent. John mcnaughton

  16. syd bean

    5150: It’s not a decision I made just facts based on previous history. It is also not something that I would be willing to openly share. The bottom line is that certain clubs have issues year after year and it is always something, whether it’s too hot, too rainy etc. These clubs have lost turf year after year and because of the loss this season the are getting another excuse piggy backing the unfortunate. A lot of courses have come out of the winter in great shape (not just Mill Run, which I can’t speak to) but are really not mentioned in the article. It would seem to me that the people quoted within this article generally come from the same type of course (high budget, private). To me it would seem that maybe the article should have had a broader sampling rate including a variety of budgets and practices before it generalizes all courses are in trouble. A lot of times underlying problems are completely invisible to the layman and ultimately lead to destruction before anyone else notices. John McNaughton states that their greens are rolling beautifully, this does not mean that they are healthy (not to say they aren’t either) but that comment alone tells me that his gauge is how well the ball is rolling, concrete rolls well too. The best way to discover how your course is doing is to educate yourself and ask questions. If you have a good Superintendent they should be more than willing to share.

    1. 5150

      Maybe I’m way off base here but it sounds like you are a member of this club you speak of (or more accurately won’t speak of) that has issues year after year. If that’s true, then why generalize on a public forum and make it seem like this is the case at many clubs? It’s unfortunate that you are not happy with your club/superintendent but don’t paint others with the same brush.

      Or maybe I’m wrong and you have intimate knowledge of many clubs where the supers are just politically adept and don’t know a thing about growing grass?

  17. syd bean

    5150:You would be wrong on both accounts. I’m not hear to argue just provide another opinion to think about.

    1. 5150

      So this is all speculation on your part?? You have no real evidence? Not cool.

  18. syd bean

    5150: Not speculation at all. If you care that much then you should do some of your own research. I’m not going to centre clubs or Superintendents out.

    1. 5150

      If you’re not going to share then why post in a public forum at all? You have zero credibility by hiding…

    2. superintendent

      Syd I have read all your and the posted comments on this subject of winter kill and your thoughts on the quality of some superintendents in the GTA. I can agree with some of your opinions but when it comes to mother nature and her effect on what lives and dies over a winter season I can not. I have been a superintendent for over 35 years and have been at many high end golf clubs, this winter is one of the hardest winters we have had on turf, back in 1982 courses in the GTA and through out Ontario suffered similar type of winter kill just like many courses today. Back then just like today some courses had major damage while others showed little damage, this as it may seem strange mother nature herself is strange and she is the one who has control not the superintendent. This winter parts of Ontario had lots of rain while others got little, some had freezing rain 10 ml thick while others got 20 ml, some had the snow melt in late March while others just got rid of it last week. With this difference in condtions in weather we should assume there will be differences in turf survival. I am working at a 100 % bentgrass course, did we get damage on some of our turf ,yes, maybe not as much as the GTA courses but we did not have the same conditions as they did. If theses courses in the GTA had bentgrrass greens they would still have some damage on them, and the comments about the skill of the superintendent would still be floating in the air. This was a tough winter on turf so lets leave it to that.

    3. Johnny McJohnny

      Superintendent – Wonderfully stated.

  19. Johnny McJohnny

    Brilliant back and forth on the comments gentlemen! Very entertaining.
    a few observations I would like to share.

    -It seems everyone is trying generalize here, which is a dead end. Speaking in generalities regarding agronomy and weather is useless, because even golf courses across the street from each other can display incredibly different microclimates, soil structures, and other beneficial or negative characteristics affecting turf success/failure.

    The courses that were mentioned in this article all experienced similar weather patterns this winter. Rains in late Dec. and Jan, coupled with freezing melt water that lead to prolonged ice cover-which kills turf (mostly poa) on a large scale. Courses like Mill-Run likely survived due to the fact that they likely did not recieve similar patterns (my guess would be that they are further north from Lake Ontario which can have a warming effect on the temp. – ie. more drastic rains and melt periods followed by freezing temps shortly after).

    -To Syd’s first comment regarding piggy backing and excuses…. I just feel that this is a relatively unintelligent comment that should be withdrawn. Growing grass is quite similar to farming…. agronomics can be largely influenced for the better or worse by weather. When cherry farmers lose an entire years worth of crops due to late spring frosts, or ice storms….. is that mis-management? Or the widespread apple crop failures that farmers have experienced in Norfolk county over recent years….How about the great dust bowl of the prairies… lots of crop death then too…mis-management here too?

    You have some of the most respected and accomplished turfgrass growers here telling you that this is the worst catastrophic loss they have ever seen in their careers….And you chalk that up to “piggy backing excuses….and shortcomings”. It seems that this article has quoted some intelligent and EDUCATED professionals sharing information, informing the public, explaining the situation, and making suggestions on superior survival strategies to avoid future catastrophic losses…. and yet Syd, Concerned and Meatball maintain that there is no open dialogue, respect, or solutions – only excuses.

    Yes… I think your prognostications of ruffling feathers is quite accurate here.

    -Concerned : Please tell us all what magical cultural practice would save poa annua from 60-75 days of cover under 3″ of ice when it is -25C….

    ***Often times I think golfers and other stakeholders of the industry forget that the product that Superintendents produce is actually a living thing. Sometimes no matter how good or bad you are – no matter how much or little money you spend – no matter how much or little you’ve done to prepare… you cannot beat the unpredictable wrath of mother nature.

    But isn’t that the idiosyncrasy of golf? The constantly changing weather conditions? The closeness with nature? the ever changing conditions of the arena/stadium that the game is played in? A Turf managers role to to push, pull and influence that weather into seemingly beneficial directions…. but they are only human…Time and time again Mother Nature lets us all know who is boss. Isn’t it ironic that the one thing that makes golf so great, so awesome (in the truest sense of that word, not the youthly-overused and diluted sense), and so different from other sports is also its greatest weakness… that is it’s closeness with nature

    1. superintendent

      I could not have said it better, thanks for the support, we need more people that think like you and support the professional superintendents that look after the game of golf for all

    2. meatballgolf

      Good points . What other solutions were offered besides change to bent grass greens in this article? It seems that solution is short term because it is noted that poa will eventually creep back in anyways. What other solutions were offered to winter protection other than covering greens? At our course it didn’t matter whether they were covered or not. Some uncovered survived better than covered ones. When natural disasters created dust bowls etc., the farming industry adapted to different crops, different farming methods, new seeds. I know the golf industry takes advantage of University of Guelph. What newer solutions have they come up with? Has the organization commissioning this article given funds to U of G to find solutions? Do our western neighbours who have harsh winters employ different strategies? I don’t have twitter so I cant participate in the discussion late today so I kind of jammed all of my questions here.

  20. 5150

    Ladies and Gentlemen…Syd has left the building…

  21. syd bean

    In closing, I think Johnny and Superintendent obviously have considerable knowledge of the industry and my comments are not intended to centre anyone out. They are merely comments and in MY opinion things are not always as cut and dry as weather. I have no doubt the the people within the article are intelligent people, again though I was just stating the similarities in most of their clubs and looking for a slightly more diverse group. I do stand by my initial comment that there are unfortunate Superintendents this season without a doubt. But I do also believe there are a select few ( not necessarily listed in the article) that got lucky that some of the aforementioned lost turf as well as their excuses were getting long in the tooth. 5150:You really haven’t added anything to this conversation. And Johnny and Superintendent: Well written and well thought, thanks.

  22. 5150

    Is that sorry Syd? Apology accepted. Thanks.

  23. Dick Kirkpatrick

    Well done Mr. McJohnny

  24. Fedupwitharmchairsupers

    Blaming the Supers for ice damage is like blaming Doctors for not curing cancer.

  25. paleo

    Syd, etal. While I disagree with a lot of what you guys have said, some of it is true. I think the point that you are missing is that the demands of the golfers for faster and faster greens resulted in much of what happened this winter. In an average winter, we might get away with it but coupled with ice, cold temperatures, freeze thaw events etc, the greens were pushed over the edge. Take a look at “your clubs” tees and fairways. I would bet they came through the winter much better than the greens. The maintenance level is lower. They are cut less often and at a higher height of cut. They can build up carbs in the fall and generally survive better because of this. A quarter inch of ice on a tee or fairway, cut well over a quarter of an inch, leaves the grass leaves above the ice. That same ice completely suffocates grass cut all year at 1/10 of an inch or less.
    Mill Run is a fine well managed golf course but it is not as intensely managed as many of the big name high budget courses. I doubt they are forced to double cut and roll daily at ridiculously low heights of cut.
    I have a pitch and put Par 3, 9 holer. We cut those greens 3 days a week at just under tee height. I have never seen any winter kill on those greens in 22 years…and they are almost pure bent….but would you be satisfied putting those greens? nope, not at all. I have an 18 hole Championship course maintained very close to what the big boys in the city do. Each year we have some degree of winterkill. This year is no different.
    You state we are great politicians but poor agronomists. I agree with both of those statements. If we were truly good agronomist we would never push the grass to the levels that are demanded on a day to day by golfers such as yourself. You may pay our wages, and God Bless You for that but the demands have surpassed the ability of even the best trained agronomists to deliver consistently. We have to be great politicians to be able to explain to the membership why the greens can’t roll at 15 on a day in day out basis.

    We supers are our own worst enemy in many ways as we try to outdo each other for our member guests and pro ams. I don’t know if we will ever learn. I hope so but I think we are all too proud to.

    I will leave this tirade with a quote from Dan, the former or still Equipment Manager at Islington. He said that members figure “Grass grows between the cracks in a sidewalk. How tough can the job really be?”

  26. Retired Superintendent

    The carnage that has fallen most golf courses this spring in the GTA, is not new I have witnessed this many springs in the Sixties an Seventies and it was usually evident on old pushed up soil greens. It is amazing to read comments from goof balls like Syd, who ever he is. The competition in the Private Club sector for members is fierce and the person that gets his or her course back in condition first will be a hero.
    The sodding of greens at this time of year can be a real disaster, especially if the old turf is removed and new sod laid on this base, God help them this summer when the temperatures rise and the new turf goes south.
    The Superintendent that gets out aerifies, slit seeds and top dresses heavily will be ahead of those, who sod and will open with presentable turf much sooner than the sodded ones. The Clubs that are demanding US Open conditions 24/7 are the real culprits of what is happening today, it is not natural to put this stress on turf continually and you get a winter like the past one ,there is bound to be trouble.
    By the way, Hannes Broschek is from the old school and was always supportive of the Superintendent as he was the person on the front line, standing between the Superintendent and the members


    1. ki

      retiredsuper is sharing great knowledge. most damage occurs on older soil greens, that also lack proper surface drainage and poor perc rate in the rootzone. many photos i have seen show damage on flat or low lying areas with no drainage.
      point well taken regarding sodding, just masking the root of the problem (pun intended). and there wont be sufficient root development before summer. This will likely run up the water bill and increase the incidence of disease.
      the expectations of playing conditions has gotten out of control. The courses on TV arent like that year round. They back off when the tournam,ent is over. The costs to maintain those conditions arent relative to what the average Joe wants to pay. Each side has to compromise.

  27. GE

    You want to know how to handle poa? What would you say about a northern Saskatchewan golf course that has already mowed some greens a few times? Call the crew at the Waskesiu Golf Course…unless of course you’re all “bent” on a GTA solution to a GTA problem.

    1. 5150

      So they come through the winter well once and all of sudden the’re experts on poa management? I played there several years ago and the greens were still recovering from winterkill in the FALL…

  28. The Grass is not always Greener

    Speaking as a scientist, the one thing that applies in solving any scientific problem is that it is impossible to control or know all variables that are involved in a problem. That being said, what works in preventing the death of either poa or bent grasses is merely a combination of numerous variables which are impossible to identify 100%. So what appears to “work” in helping grass to survive adverse conditions will have similar factors involved but it is not possible to identify, qualify or quantify all factors at work. If you need another example of this type of situation, just look at the attempt to “cure” cancer. Again too many variables at play to find a solution to eradicate all cancer.

    So it just remains a situation to “manage” with every tool available, but don’t be fooled into thinking that there is even one solution that will prevent all dead grass everywhere everytime. Mother Nature always has the last word.

    1. 5150

      Well said.

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  30. Evo Bio

    Another point no one has made and I wonder how significant it may be; does Poa have an easier time becoming the dominant species of grass in southern Ontario due to the repeated mild winters we have compared to harsher climes such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, etc.? If every winter a good amount of Poa’s progression is destroyed due to harsh winter conditions out west (before it has a chance to become the dominant species) then no one would notice significant turf mortality rates as the bent is predominant. I can certainly agree with most here, there are so many variables involved in a superintendents position producing quality turf, including budgetary ones, no one should be laying fault at the greenskeeper’s door.

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  32. bernie

    we have the same problem on the fairways we changed the green from poa to bent but not the fairways.the never come in by the end of the season,so your greens would be the same.before we changed we used to put hay on top before winter and then when it snowed would blow the snow on top of the hay.never had a problem with winter kill as the grass was nice and toasty in the insulated igloo.the thaw would be soaked up by the straw before it got to the grass.new reguim thought it was a stupid idea and thus 5 tears later we changed the greens over.that was 2 greens a year for 8 years.what a night mare that is so try the hay and snow teachnique this year as you dont have much to lose.

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