If you are a regular afternoon golfer at Sycamore Ridge, you may find yourself asking "why are there piles of ice on the greens?" The simple answer to the question is "that's how we're watering parts of the greens." As with most things in life (and especially in turf management) the answer is a bit more involved than that.
Let's start with the basics - grass, especially when it's mowed at greens height, needs water to stay alive. Did you also know that too much water can be bad for greens? When grass has too much water, it can lead to several different diseases and algae growth, all of which is bad for the health of the green. As a maintenance staff, we are constantly working to maintain the proper balance between too much, and just enough water for the greens to be healthy and playable for golfers.
There are multiple ways to apply water to a green. The most commonly seen are with the irrigation system (referred to as overhead sprinklers), and hoses (also known as syringing). Overnight, the entire green will get watered using the overhead system. This is the fastest way to cover an entire area in a small amount of time, but is the least efficient at putting water precisely where it's needed. In the afternoons, you'll see the maintenance staff dragging hoses around to water smaller areas of the green. This method is pretty labor intensive, and requires probing of the greens to determine where best to apply the water, but is more efficient at putting water where it's needed most.
How do you determine when and how to water the greens? The answer to this ranges from very simple (when the grass starts turning brown), to more detailed (when the soil moisture level is too low or the surface temperature of the green is too hot). Visual checks of the greens allow us to see if there is a problem based on the color of the grass itself. Green is generally an indication that the turf is healthy. Purple and brown indicate a need for water. Although the grass may be green, it's possible that there could be a lack of moisture beneath the surface. As mentioned previously, we use probes to help us determine the amount of moisture the soil is holding at any given point in time during the day. If the probe indicates that the moisture is low, we know that we need to water that particular area of the green.
If you take a look at your home lawn, you may notice that some areas are green, and some are browning even though you're applying water regularly. While there are scientific reasons behind that happening, we'll keep it simple and say that soil properties can vary from one area to another. One spot may be very good at retaining moisture, a spot one inch away may not hold any moisture at all. On putting surfaces, these areas will present themselves as small areas of dryness, or a "hot spot." This is the reason you are seeing piles of ice on the greens.
Using the overhead system waters everything regardless of whether it's wet under the surface, or dry as a bone. This can lead to large areas of the green becoming too wet. Using the hoses gets us down to smaller areas of application and allows us to avoid the wetter areas, but still can be too broad of an application. The piles of ice allow us to place water precisely where we need it. Think of it like surgery using a chainsaw, a Bowie knife, or a scalpel. The ice also melts over time, providing the turf a slow-release type of watering. Ice also lowers the surface temperature of the turf. The final benefit is that the hoses are heavy, and are no fun to drag around on the greens, so the ice eliminates the physical aspect of watering on a hot day!
So while the piles of ice can be a bit of a nuisance while you're out golfing, just know that they'll be gone in 15 minutes, and are helping to keep the putting surfaces alive and well for future rounds of golf!