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Hard winter tough on golf courses, athletic fields

Fast facts

  • Hard winter brings winter kill back to athletic fields, golf courses
  • Management decisions depend on cultivar
  • See Turf Tips at

(614 words)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Winter’s frigid fingers left their mark on golf courses and other sports fields in northwest Arkansas, leaving turfgrass managers to ponder their options, according to Mike Richardson, horticulture professor with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

He said turfgrass managers had about a decade’s break from winter injury, but the last winter put an end to that respite.

“Just about all the golf courses in the northwest Arkansas area are showing some damage due to the severe winter, but most of that damage is localized to environments that are typically most susceptible to winter injury,” Richardson said.

Those vulnerable spots include areas having north facing slopes, low mowing heights and high traffic. He said the “injury observed on the golf courses have covered a range of cultivars and have also extended from bermudagrass to zoysiagrass.”

With bermudagrass injury, there are several options including reseeding or resodding or simply waiting on recovery if there is still some live plant material.

“If you need to replant, consider a cold-tolerant seeded bermudagrass like Riviera, or a cold-tolerant vegetative type like Northbridge, Latitude 36, or Patriot,” said Richardson.

Seeded types can only be used in areas where a pre-emergent herbicide hasn’t been applied.

“If you are replacing sod and a pre-emergence herbicide was applied, be sure to cut the dead sod out as deeply as possible to get beneath the herbicide layer,” he said. “An application of activated charcoal can also be used to deactivate the herbicide and encourage rooting.”


“One of our big questions coming out of this winter is the fate of ultradwarf bermudagrasses, as these cultivars continue to be planted farther north every year,” Richardson said.

“There is one golf course in NW Arkansas with nine ultradwarf greens  -- seven planted in Champion and two in Tifeagle and, for the most part, they made it through the winter in good shape,” he said. “The superintendent raised the mowing height going into the winter and used turf covers regularly.

However, even with those precautionary practices, two of the Champion greens had noticeable winterkill, and one had enough damage that some replanting will be necessary for repair.

“In our research plots, we saw significant damage on the ultradwarf plots and it appeared that Mini-Verde and Tifeagle fared a little better than Champion, which is similar to observations in years past,” he said.


Zoysiagrass injury is a little more complicated. 

“Zoysiagrass is such a slow-growing grass species that resodding doesn’t necessarily get you back to good playing conditions right away,” Richardson said. “If you are seeing a lot of green shoots in a damaged area, it may be worthwhile to just let the turf slowly recover, as the existing surface, while not green, may be a better playing surface than a resodded area.

“If you choose to wait, you may want to consider using one of the new pigment or dye products to help mask the damaged areas during the recovery period,” he said. “You will probably need to do a little testing at your facility to find that right concentration or mixture of dyes to match the existing turf.”

If resodding is done, Richardson said to be sure to “give that sod ample time to root before allowing play on it and make sure your members and management are aware that it will take much of the growing.”

Home turf

Sports fields weren’t the only ones to suffer, with many home lawns experiencing cold weather damage. Expect these to be slow to green up this spring, similar to golf and sports turf, Richardson said. Homeowners should also not blame their lawncare services for any winter damage to warm season grasses.

For more information, visit the Division of Agriculture’s Turfgrass Science Program

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

By The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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