Week of May 1st Tee Times

Does Kinder, Gentler, Winter Mean a Kinder, Gentler Season?

Fingers crossed and umbrellas in their trunks, Connecticut golfers embarked last weekend on what they hope will be a season of kinder, gentler weather than in 2018. It looks promising, thanks to a winter that treated turf kindly.

Though rain followed during the week and, indeed, predictions of more rain cancelled the CSGA’s second One Day Tournament at Stonington, the mood remained upbeat. Why? That sympathetic winter.

“It’s great,” said Scott Ramsay, golf superintendent at the Course at Yale, hard hit by last year's brutal weather. “This year the transition from winter to spring has been much more consistent. The winter much milder.” Director of Golf Peter Pulaski agreed. “The winter this year was very mild to the golf course and besides the wind that caused lots of branches and sticks to fall, the turf looks really good with very little snow mold or ice damage.” 

Snowfall—not always a bad thing for turf but a headache for openings—was 15 inches below average this winter, meaning that many Connecticut courses opened prior to April 1. Most are now open for good. “About mid-January a year ago we got a freeze that came in and just stunned the plants,” said Ramsay. “There were some courses where turf burned because of that. At Yale and other places the turf didn’t burn but it was just stunned. Jolted. Then the year continued with the highs and then lows and then highs again the plants were really confused.” What followed was drought and then deluge. One amazing September Tweet from Ramsay: “6.35 inches of rain at Yale today.” The Connecticut Four-Ball Championship there was postponed twice. 

Let's hope Mother Nature is paying us back for the suffering she inflicted in 2018.

Marc Weston, President of the Connecticut Association of Golf Course Superintendents, thinks it’s only fair that Connecticut get a break in 2019. “Maybe this is the payback year, in a good way,” he said. “Let’s hope Mother Nature is paying us back for the suffering she inflicted in 2018.”

The pattern of freezes and thaws that characterized the winter of 2017-2018 then transitioned to a roller-coaster of hot–dry–drenched weather that left fairways either burnt-out or soggy. This year, though chilly, courses are dealing with none of the freeze-thaw-refreeze damage of last January and February, say Ramsay and Weston. It has been a little colder than average—March’s average of 32.5-degrees in Danbury, for example, was 1.7 degrees below normal—but that has simply slowed turf growth, not damaged it. “It’s always colder than you’d like and colder at night so things don’t grow as fast as you’d like, but the days are mostly nice, and things are much better than they were a year ago,” said Weston, the superintendent at Indian Hill Country Club.

“It’s far and away different than what we had last year,” said Jay Van Coughnett, superintendent at Torrington Country Club, which will host the Connecticut Open in July. He says Torrington had none of the ice that damaged turf a year ago. “When it was cold, there was some snow to cover and protect the putting surfaces. The greens have almost no blemishes and are rolling well. We’re off to a great start,” he said.

What Ramsay, Weston, Van Coughnett and other supers hope to avoid is the near-record highs followed by near-record rainfall that damaged fairways last year and made maintenance a nightmare. (It also contributed to a record year of tornadoes in the state.) Like Yale, Torrington suffered from early drought and later deluge: two feet of rain between Mid-July to Mid-August.  

“Last year was a year of extremes. It was a miserable from May to Thanksgiving,” said Ramsay. “So this is great news. It should be trumpeted!”

Good news for both supers and golfers, said Weston. “Not only were the golf superintendents damaged mentally from last year, but I think the golfers were, too. I think they were stunned. I think they’re really happy to get back out there.”