Opening the golf course for winter play is one of the more difficult decisions a golf course superintendent or owner will make. Many golf courses just close for the winter while others remain open. In these situations, there is little worry since the decision has already been made. However, if you are caught somewhere in the middle, winter play decisions are difficult and often times result in political consequences. Whether to allow play or not are often late winter/early spring decisions.
In general winter play is NOT good for turf, especially golf greens because of little if any turfgrass growth. The repercussion from no growth is little if any recovery from traffic or wear (especially on greens). Also, divots, ball marks and generally tearing up the turf become potential"beachheads" for the development of winter weeds like annual bluegrass (Poa annua). We have ranked the various situations from least to worst for winter play. We would say that any play on frozen turf (leaf blades, plants) should be avoided. Immediate damage will occur to the plant similar to playing on a frosted turf. In addition, golf greens will be subject to the most intensive traffic so use temporary greens where possible.
Play on dry unfrozen soil - Although wear injury is always a potential problem this is situation will result in the least damage.
Play on frozen soil - Most likely will result in wear injury to the turf but little soil compaction. If this condition can quickly turn into some thawing at the surface.
Play on wet, unfrozen soil - The potential damage under this scenario is significant soil compaction can occur but less wear injury.
PLAY ON A THAWING SOIL (UNFROZEN (WET) ON THE SURFACE, FROZEN BELOW) - This situation can result in both wear injury and soil compaction. This type of situation should be avoided. The problems associated with winter play will affect spring play. Once the spring season begins the condition of the course (hard, worn, etc.) will not be at the level of golfer expectation