Just about every golf course that has ever had a frost delay has probably had to deal with comments from golfers about there being no frost at their house. The explanation is pretty simple, weather conditions that affect one location might not have the same impact in another location nearby. Beyond that basic fact, there are some specific reasons why golf courses may be more vulnerable to frost than your front yard.
Frost lingers longer in a shaded environment than one that is more open. On a golf course with trees lining fairways or surrounding greens, sunlight is slower to penetrate leaves and branches so turf will hold on to frost later in the morning. Compare that to a home where there might be fewer trees. Sun gets to the grass shortly after sunrise and “burns off” the frost earlier than it might at the nearby golf course.
Orientation to the sun, prevailing wind and topography also play a role in frost severity and duration. Golf courses generally wind through a landscape with holes going in many directions. Holes also go up, down and over hills and valleys. The front half of a fairway could be north facing and lose frost later than the second half that turns to the south. Golf holes also play into low-lying valleys where cold air can settle, causing frost to linger. If your front yard is facing the morning sun and gets plenty of air movement, you can expect frost to melt sooner than it would on that drop-shot par 3 surrounded by trees.
I’m going to assume most homeowners wouldn’t remove a level from their house or cut down all the trees in their yard to lessen frost, but there are some options on a golf course to help reduce frost delays. Tree spacing and location are important for several reasons on a course, but their impact on frost is certainly a consideration. Too many trees planted too close to a fairway or green are going to cause shade that may extend frost delays. The longevity of the frost could be reduced if the trees were removed or at minimum thinned out to allow shafts of light to reach the ground.
The important thing is that you don’t make assumptions on frost delay length or how much rain fell at the course from your home. There are too many variables to think that what you see out your front window is what you should expect at the course. When in doubt, call the golf shop for an update before heading over.
Northeast Region Agronomists
Darin Bevard, senior director, Championship Agronomy – firstname.lastname@example.org
Elliott L. Dowling, regional director, East Region – email@example.com
Brian Gietka, agronomist – firstname.lastname@example.org
Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service