Golf 101: Understanding Frost Delays

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So you’ve dragged yourself out of your warm bed at an ungodly hour and drove in your freezing cold car to the course only to find you can’t play because of a “frost delay”. Frost?! You might wonder why you can’t play just because nature has decided to dust the ground with a little bit of chilled water. Well, Rock Heads, Scratch is here to make it all clear.

It all has to do with potential turf damage. If you see frost on the grass, you should know that it’s a clear sign that the water inside the cells of the blades of grass are frozen. And remember that water is the main part of plant tissue. When the grass is in this state it is extremely fragile and brittle.

When the grass is like this, any traffic on it could easily damage or kill the grass. Traffic on the turf causes the ice crystals in the cells to puncture through the cell walls, killing the plant tissue. John Hayward, head golf professional at Netley Creek Golf Club, describes it this way, “Think of your arm or leg being frozen solid to the point that it is brittle. It would break off if any pressure was put on it and obviously you would be in trouble. For the grass it simply dies.” This damage can be so severe that if golfers walk on a frost-covered course, by the afternoon you can already see their footprints filled with brown dead grass!

This picture from Myrtle Beach shows the actual foot print patters of ONE foursome playing the hole like normal. The grass is damaged beyond repair now. Image from

It’s hard to say how long a frost delay will last. It really depends on how soon the sun will be up and how strong it will be. Of course, shady areas will take even longer to “defrost.” So when there is a frost delay, remember to stay off all the grass; different parts of the course will thaw out at different rates.

Frost delays are annoying, trust me I know. However, your local course superintendent knows the course the best, and we’ve all got to respect their decision. They’ve got to decide between the good of the golfers at the moment and the good of the course long term. My recommendation for enduring a frost delay? Hit the clubhouse for a cup of coffee and take in the early morning beauty of the course.

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