Utilizing tarps for winter protection can be a complex issue. The complexity is predominantly driven by a false sense of security and a perception from golfers that tarps are a necessary part of winter prep and protection from ice. The truth of the matter is not a simple black & white response; there are many scenarios where we could strike a debate on the effectiveness of the various tarps or even having tarps at all. No golf course is created equal and there are numerous factors and circumstances that can influence the use of tarps, as a result the decision to utilize tarps and how you use them can vary from course to course. Here are the good, the bad and the ugly of the various winter options.
Impermeable (solid) Tarps
IF air and water tight, can protect against damage from ice
Protection from wind desiccation
Blowing air under tarp can assist in breaking ice and removal
Cost of tarps is roughly $40,000 for 18 holes and will last 4-5 years
Operational costs for materials and labour is $20,000 annually
Requires constant maintenance throughout the winter
Very difficult to inspect green, once tarps are on they can not be removed.
Many green surrounds at Cutten Fields slope towards the green; this would require extensive trenching to maintain water tight tarp installation.
Often when removing tarps in spring, turf health can regress as it acclimates to spring conditions and temperatures.
Using tarps can help weaker turf more prone to injury survive and thrive
Poor gas exchange can cause turf injury by anoxia (ironically, a common cause of injury under ice)
Warm winter temperatures or a mild winter could be a cause for concern. Heat and lack of air movement can cause additional stress and injury.
Permeable (perforated) Tarps
Protection from wind desiccation
Assist in warming soils in spring
Can expedite the recovery process from winter injury
Installation and removal is a simple process and only takes a couple days
Cost of tarps is roughly $30,000 for 18 holes and will last 4-5 years
Inhibits ability to remove all snow, ice or slush from surface
When removing snow or ice the tarps often tear and rip, reducing the life expectancy of the tarp.
During a thaw freeze event; there is tight window to remove any potential ice, tarps can significantly slow this process down.
Often used as a political move, because of false perceptions of security in the golfing community
Very difficult to inspect green, once tarps are on the can not be removed.
Often when removing tarps in spring turf health can regress as it acclimates to spring conditions and temperatures.
Does not offer any protection against ice damage or winter injury
Quickly remove snow or slush before the formation of ice, with out damage to snow blowers or tarps
Can easily inspect turf throughout winter
If greens are encased in ice, staff can attempt to break or remove ice.
Turf acclimates to the environmental conditions naturally and often surpasses covered turf.
Perception within golfing community of doing nothing to protect greens.
Does not offer any protection against ice damage or winter injury.
Does not protect turf from wind desiccation.
It can be a very difficult decision for older golf clubs with Poa annua greens to decide on how to approach winter protection and there are never any guarantees when it comes to protection from ice. This coming winter at Cutten Fields, we plan to remove snow and slush when conditions call for it. As a result, it will be most effective for us to manage without the use of our perforated tarps. However we do plan on using tarps on a few greens that are more prone to desiccation from wind. The remaining tarps will be kept in good condition and will be used in the spring only if necessary. Good sunlight, drainage, and healthy turf heading into winter will all help with the plants ability to survive regardless of the tarping system employed. The ultimate solution is having Creeping Bentgrass as it can better withstand and survive under ice cover. .