Eliseo Lopez uses a Verti-Drain machine on the fairway of...

Eliseo Lopez uses a Verti-Drain machine on the fairway of the 15th hole at Hempstead Golf and Country Club. Work to prepare the course for use after a harsh winter has been overseen by superintendent Joe Tamborski. (March 30, 2011) Credit: James Escher

And you thought you had a rough winter. At least you got to go indoors every now and again. The greens, tees and fairways on Long Island golf courses had to just stand there and take the pounding.

"It was a crazy summer followed by a crazy winter," said Ben Orlowski, superintendent of golf courses at Eisenhower Park. "But we do go through this every year. We know that Mother Nature is going to throw things at you."

Actually, snow itself was not so terrible. "A packed snow cover in a limited time frame is not a bad thing because it can insulate the ground. It's best when the ground is already frozen when you get a deep snowfall," said Joe Tamborski, superintendent at Hempstead Golf & Country Club, who had to deal with a much more damaging offseason in the mid-1990s.

Still, brutal weather is bound to hurt closely cropped, sensitive grasses such as the Poa annua that dominates most Long Island courses. "On fairways, gray snow mold disease has been particularly damaging this year because of the long duration of the snow cover," said Adam Moeller, agronomist for the U.S. Golf Association, who conducted a seminar at Wheatley Hills last week. The longer the snow remains, the worse the snow mold becomes, he said. He added that some local greens lost patches because of "crown hydration damage," when the snow thawed then froze again.

The bottom line for early season golfers is this, Tamborski said: "Just be patient. Mother Nature has the final say."

For the next month or so, you'll need forbearance on some holes, which will have temporary greens. Just about all courses will aerate their greens, meaning there will be many little holes poked into the surface to let air into the roots. That means bumpy greens. There will be dark, topdressing sand on greens. It's all about keeping the courses healthy enough to make it to summer.

"There's a delicate line. We know players have been cooped up all winter. We've been cooped up all winter," Orlowski said. "Everyone wants to have the courses open." But he added that too much traffic now, when greens are still vulnerable, can hurt them later.

A severe winter can cause havoc in about a half-dozen ways, Tamborski said. There are pink and gray snow molds that can damage grass. There is the way snow blocks photosynthesis, in which grass, like other plants, produces sugars. "Sugars kind of act like antifreeze," he said. There also is a condition in which snow or ice essentially suffocates turf, trapping gases that become toxic.

Sometimes it can get just too plain cold. Hempstead faced that problem in a desperate way one winter in the mid-1990s. "We had a six-inch frost by New Year's. Then it rained, and froze," Tamborski said. "We didn't see grass on the greens the first week in April. It was basically carnage, the grass was gone."

This winter was nowhere near that bad and the course doesn't need anything drastic. Just some tweaking. Tamborski has been running steel mats across fairways to get the grass to stand up and start growing. He has covered two sensitive greens with synthetic tarps that act like greenhouses for warmth.

Orlowski said he and the Eisenwhower Park crew are preparing to aerate, overseed, apply nutrients and generally nurse the greens back to life. Moeller of the USGA said that all courses should be back to normal in two months or less, unless greens get too much play.

It's a time of year when golfers and superintendents have to be patient. "We're a lot like farmers," Tamborski said. "You take what nature gives you."

Today's Tip

"Good practice makes good golf. Most golfers go to the driving range and hit balls without a purpose. Next time you practice, set aside 10 minutes to establish your routine. I like to stand behind the ball and visualize the shot, then walk in with a clear mind, free of fear, worry or doubt.

"If you can take your driving range routine--one free of negative thoughts--to the golf course, you will play your best golf under any circumstance."

-- Peter Procops, PGA Head Professional, Lawrence Yacht & Country Club


Martin Goldberg, Bethpage Black, 14th hole, 152 yards, 7-iron

Larry Schoenfeld, Lawrence Yacht & CC, 14th hole, 107 yards, gap wedge

Nitin Doshi, Old Westbury G & CC, Overlook Course, eighth hole, 154 yards, 6-iron

John Lovett, St. George's G & CC, seventh hole, 181 yards, 4-hybrid

Mike Mensch (of Yaphank), Vasari CC, Bonita Springs, Fla., seventh hole, 155 yards, 6-iron

Fred Meyers, Lido GC, fifth hole, 145 yards, 23-degree rescue

Roger Carpenter (of Babylon), Stoneybrook GC, Bradenton, Fla., 17th hole, 138 yards, 8-iron

Jim McGonigle, Swan Lake GC, 13th hole, 177 yards, 5-iron

Bernard Cody (of Eastport), Old Palm GC, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., sixth hole, 140 yards, 6-iron

Donald B. Duffy (of Kings Park), The Landing G & CC, Clearwater, Fla., 15th hole, 96 yards, pitching wedge