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updated: 4/28/2014 1:20 PM

Winter was brutal to courses, but there were benefits

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  • Allen Parkes, golf course superintendent and general manager at Chevy Chase Golf Course in Wheeling, says an upside to the cold and snowy winter is "no geese to tear up the turf."

       Allen Parkes, golf course superintendent and general manager at Chevy Chase Golf Course in Wheeling, says an upside to the cold and snowy winter is "no geese to tear up the turf."
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comAlejandro Mata, greens keeper, setting pins at Chevy Chase Golf Course on Tuesday in Wheeling.

      George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comAlejandro Mata, greens keeper, setting pins at Chevy Chase Golf Course on Tuesday in Wheeling.

  • Alejandro Mata, greens keeper, operates a sidewinder roller at Chevy Chase Golf Course in Wheeling.

       Alejandro Mata, greens keeper, operates a sidewinder roller at Chevy Chase Golf Course in Wheeling.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comGreens keepers cutting the fairway at Chevy Chase Golf Course on Tuesday in Wheeling.

      George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comGreens keepers cutting the fairway at Chevy Chase Golf Course on Tuesday in Wheeling.

 
By Kent McDill
Daily Herald Correspondent

Life is all in how you look at things. While Midwestern golfers had to wonder what their favorite courses were going to look like when the 2014 season opened up after the harshest winter in recent memory, it turns out that all of that snow and cold had a benefit.

"All of the snow kept the geese from tearing up a lot of turf," said Allen Parkes, general manager and course supervisor of Chevy Chase Golf Club in Wheeling.

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"The sheer quantity of geese we get migrating in is a problem. They enjoy chewing on the turf, especially the greens, digging for sand, which is good for their digestive systems. But this year there was too much snow. No geese."

See? It's all a matter of perspective.

This winter presented unique conditions for golf course managers because winter came early and never left. In winters previous, the snow and cold would wait almost until January to hit, and then there would be sporadic periods of warmth that would melt the ice and snow away.

This year, the snow that came in December arrived early and was still on the ground in March. There was never a warm-up. Snow turned to ice in the freezing cold weather, and then was covered again by more snow. Time and time again that pattern emerged in the winter of 2013-14.

"It was the worst winter I can remember since our course opened in 1989," said Mike Nass, executive director of Cantigny Golf Club in Wheaton. "I'm not sure there is such a thing as a normal winter, but this sure wasn't it."

Most courses in the area were not ready to open until early to mid April due to the damage done by the unusual winter weather.

"It's kind of sporadic," Nass said earlier this month. "There are some holes, some greens, that have some visual damage from the cold and from ice damage. But there are a lot of holes that are perfectly fine. The ground is still cold and still frozen, so it is a little hard to tell how much of what we are seeing is going to recover on its own and how much we are going to have to put some effort into our feeding or planting extra fertilizer."

Parkes, who obviously comes from the "glass-half-full" group, said the winter wear is not bad enough to affect early play.

"We have had a lot of snow cover, almost 100 days of snow cover," Parkes said. "It's actually worse when there is no snow and the Chicago winds are blowing really hard. You can experience quite a bit of turf loss.

"We didn't have a lot of water from melting," he said. "That was one of the good things. One thing that can be a problem is with a lot of snow and inclement weather, you can get a January thaw that creates a lot of water and then it refreezes, and that is where you can get into trouble. The plants think it is time to start growing, and you can't have that in January. If it freezes again, that is when you will experience a lot of turf loss. We didn't have a lot of melting. We just had snow, in some places it was a foot and a half deep, and it stayed that way."

Parkes said this winter was unusual because he had to start watching the weather forecast so early.

"It was unusual for how early it snowed, and the snow stayed on the ground," Parkes said. "We are not even accustomed to a White Christmas any more, but we went from mid-December on all the way to mid-March with snow on the ground."

The area finally enjoyed a warm weekend the last few days of March, and the snow in the area finally melted. Course managers sent out their staff to pick up all of the sticks that break off from trees, and any leaves that fell at the end of last season, to prepare for a successful opening the first weekend in April -- weather permitting.

The bad news? The geese are finally back.

"That's OK,'' Parkes said. "We can chase them now."

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