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Winter Storm Uri ravages Texas, Oklahoma

By and |  February 22, 2021 0 Comments
A cross country skier skied over one of the greens at LaFortune Park GC in Tulsa, Okla. (Photo: Scott Schurman)

A cross country skier skied over one of the greens at LaFortune Park GC in Tulsa, Okla. (Photo: Scott Schurman)

Winter Storm Uri brought sustained below-freezing temperatures and snow to areas of the country not accustomed to winter weather, such as Texas.

Jim Moore, retired USGA director of education and outreach, said it’s not the snow that is of concern to superintendents, but rather it’s the prolonged temperatures below freezing that will result in severe turfgrass injury.

“The local news said that we were now over 180 (hours below freezing), and that set the all-time record for this area,” he said. “Much of Texas is seeing records broken for both low temperatures and the number of hours below freezing.”

Moore vividly remembers the winter of 1983, the year Texas suffered prolonged below-freezing hours. “That year, greens died all over Texas,” he said. “The combination of dry conditions and prolonged freezing was just murder.”

Moore said it’s been 40 years since the golf industry in the South has seen anything like this. Moore lost six greens at Ridgewood Country Club in Waco, Texas, in 1983 where he was a superintendent at the time.

The relationship between cutting height and winter injury incidence was another lesson learned in 1983, Moore said. With ultradwarfs, often mowed to 1/8 inch or 1/10 inch, more of the plant is in the upper portion of the root zone and therefore more susceptible.

“I believe the ultradwarfs will be particularly hard hit and fully expect many courses to have to replant some if not all of their greens,” Moore said. “Any north-facing slope on fairways, tees and bunker faces will suffer a lot of damage as well. This damage won’t be confined to Texas and will likely occur throughout the mid-to northern regions of the bermudagrass belt.”

Golfdom also reached Jeff Smelser, CGCS at Galveston (Texas) Country Club, as he was driving away from checking on his course on Tuesday morning, Feb. 16.

“The course is covered in snow and ice — a couple inches,” he said. “We’ll see in a couple weeks if the greens are alive or dead. (There’s) nothing we can do right now.”


Galveston CC after Winter Storm Uri on Feb. 16, 2021. (Photo: Jeff Smelser)

Unfortunately, the course was not equipped with greens covers, but Smelser said he’s not sure if those would even help, with temperatures dropping to 15 degrees. He prepped for the deluge of snow by spraying fungicides the week before the storm and several days later spraying nutrients to boost potassium and calcium levels and then applying a wetting agent to keep moisture in the greens.

Being from south of Chicago, Smelser thought he’d moved away to escape the cold. He’s been a Texan since 1989, which, coincidentally, marked another deep freeze in Texas. In December of that year, the state reached subzero temperatures.

When we spoke with Smelser a few days later, he told us his family went four days without power, but they got through it with food and water they had stored up from hurricane season and “blankets, double layers, warm boots and prayer.”

His course opened on the Sunday after the snowstorm to cart path traffic only, and 87 players showed up. “Life moves on,” Smelser said.

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