There’s a difference between frost and frozen. In these almost-winter days (we’ve got a few weeks before it becomes official) when mornings are cold, it’s a good idea to call the pro shop before you head to the golf course on a clear day.
These brisk early-morning temperatures will likely bring on a condition known as “frost.” We’ve all heard of it, but we’re not sure how it relates to the golf course. Then when we arrive at the course, we’re disappointed to find out that our tee time is an hour later than we planned.
Here is the situation. As opposed to frozen, when the ground and turf are continually below freezing temperatures, frost (ice) forms at a specific low temperature point. So it doesn’t require consistent low temperatures, it just needs some moisture and a freezing point.
This window might not last more than minutes, but that’s all it takes. Even with warmer daytime temperatures in the 60s, early mornings can have just the right conditions for frost to form.
Ironically, when everything is frozen, it doesn’t cause the same damage. Frost, however, is freezing only the plant. When stepped on, the grass may break at the root and the plant could die. This is not good. Of course, we don’t see the damage right away, but in a few days, the evidence is seen in brown footprints.
As they should be, golf course superintendents are very sensitive to frost damage and will delay play until the ice has melted and the golf course is ready for play. It is important to note that the superintendent does not know exactly what the temperature will be in an hour and, as a result, cannot determine precisely when the frost delay will be “lifted.”
The superintendent will, based on experience, project a time to allow the pro shop staff to communicate with players and make adjustments to the day’s starting times. Depending on the location and type of golf course, the start after a delay will manifest itself in different ways.
A private club might gather all of the folks who had tee times and start them all at once, in a “shotgun” format. A daily fee (public) course will generally handle the change in one of two ways. First, the course could start everyone later based on their original starting time. In the event of a one-hour frost delay, a group that planned to start at 9 a.m. would start at 10 a.m.
Yet, here is an interesting point. A group that planned a late starting time, say noon, in order to avoid frost, might feel penalized in being pushed back to 1 p.m. In certain times of the year, this group may not even be able to finish 18 holes
So some golf courses wipe out all of the starting times before the frost delay was lifted and begin where they would have been on the tee sheet. Frost delay is lifted at 10 a.m.? Okay, the 10 a.m. group is on the tee. Reservations before 10 a.m. are placed on a waiting list and get on the course when space is available. This could be 10 minutes or an hour and a half. Who knows?
The best thing to do on a clear, cold morning is call the pro shop before you head to the course. The personable guys and girls behind the counter will give you the scoop and save you a little frustration.
There is no perfect system. Someone is bound to feel disappointed. But be not dismayed, we’re not talking about our health or world peace. Enjoy your time at the course. You will likely have some time to take care of some important things … like practicing your putting and chipping.
John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org