Northwest courses always try and improve winter conditions

Updated: February 22, 2013

Golfing in the NW during the fall and winter means gray skies, Gore-Tex and potential for wet playing conditions. While some courses are drier than others, the wet conditions raise the age-old question of playing “Winter Rules” or “Preferred Lies” or not. Within the Rules of Golf “Preferred Lies” and “Winter Rules” may be in effect as a temporary Local Rule and are described as adverse conditions, including poor conditions of the course or the existence of mud and that the temporary Local Rule may be used either to protect the course or to promote fair and pleasant play.

Winter playing conditions vary from course to course and from day to day. Which raises the question, why are some courses drier than others? There are several factors that determine the playing condition of a golf course during the fall and winter months. The primary factors affecting the playing conditions of courses are the weather, soil conditions, topography, course design and construction, drainage, maintenance practices and the amount of play.

Other than the weather, the most important factors affecting course conditions are the soil conditions or characteristics. Soils types vary by particle size, fine soils such as those found in lower lying areas or valleys tend to have high levels or amounts of silt and clay and tend to be poor draining and tend to hold moisture within them. Courser soils tend to have higher levels of loam and sand and will drain better and hold less moisture.

Several area courses with fine soils have implemented programs and projects aimed to improving winter playing conditions. These programs include aerifying and topdressing fairways and high traffic areas to amend the soil conditions and help improve the soils ability to absorb moisture and drain better. In addition to aerifying and topdressing, courses are also investing in drainage and construction projects that are designed to move excess water or moisture away from playing and traffic areas to improve winter playing conditions.

When it comes to improving soil conditions and winter playing conditions there are no simple or over-night solutions. Results from aerifying and topdressing programs take time and require capital investment. Drainage projects vary in size and scope and can range from fairly simple to complex and also have a cost associated with them. Improving winter playing conditions can be an expensive undertaking and with the recent impacts of the economy many course or clubs don’t the funds available to make improvements.

R. D. Pete Petersen, Jr. is the Superintendent of Golf Operations at Riverbend Golf Complex.