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Frost Delay Must Be Obeyed

By Matt Hombach

As the winter wanes into latter stages, golfers begin to pine for snow-free courses and milder temperatures. But there’s one thing that can keep even the most ardent golfer from his early morning tee time in early spring -- a frost delay.

This time of year, many golfers gear up for an early-season round, only to arrive at the clubhouse and discover play has been delayed until frost melts off the putting greens. Frost delays are an absolute necessity that keep putting surfaces in top condition and even keep greens fees down by helping courses avoid expensive, unnecessary maintenance.

If golfers were to disregard the instructions to not play on frost-covered greens, there would be no immediate damage. However, a few days later the areas of grass where players walked would turn brown and die.

The tiny blades of grass that make up greens are stressed by being cut so short and stomped on, even in the hottest weather. A grass blade is 90 percent water. Walking on the 1/8-inch long blades of grass when they are frosted over causes the plant to break and cell walls to shatter, preventing the blade from functioning normally. Once the cell wall breaks, it cannot be repaired.

Persistent golfers who try to make a case that just one group going off early on a frost-covered course won’t cause any problems underestimate the impact a single foursome can have on the green. According to the Golf Course Superintendents Assocation of America, the number of footprints made on any green by one golfer 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.

Pros and greens superintendents want players to enjoy the course and dislike frost delays as much, if not more so, than golfers. The delays back up the tee sheet and limit the number of paying players that can enjoy a course in a given day.

“We heed frost delays when they are needed, but we want to get golfers on the course and keep them happy,” said Jon Ladd, executive director of Baltimore’s Classic Five Golf courses. “If we delay play by 45 minutes, we run the risk of losing a foursome who only has a certain window of opportunity to play. Coming out of the winter, you want to attract golfers, not drive them away.”

Russell Bateman, director of operations for Baltimore’s Classic Five, which includes Pine Ridge and Mount Pleasant, has developed an effective, if unscientific, way to determine when to call a frost delay.

Several years ago, Bateman noticed that when his staff walked across frost-covered greens in the morning, their footprints would cause damage to the grass only about half the time. Further examination revealed greens were OK to tread across frost in a melting state. But if the frost was hard and crystallized, footprints would cause lasting damage.

Through trial and error, Bateman developed a simple test to determine if greens are playable.  Placing the palm of his bare hand on the green, Bateman counts to 10. If the frost melts completely under his palm, it’s time to tee it up. If frost remains under his hand, a frost delay is called.  

“I figure it saves us an hour of playing time on a frosty morning,” Bateman said of the test. “We work hard to get our golfers out as early as possible.”

Sonnefeld Foundation Seeks Applications
At least two $2,500 college scholarships will be awarded to area high school golfers this spring by the George E. Sonnefeld Foundation, Inc. The foundation was founded in memory for Sonnefeld, who was passionate about the game of golf.

To qualify, students must be seniors, play on their high school team and have an established handicap. 

Golfers who wish to apply should contact Susan DiLonardo at 410-841-5670 or

Issue 147: March 2010