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If you’ve ever turned up at the golf course on a seemingly perfect winter’s day, only to find yourself bewildered by the “course closed” sign awaiting you on the first tee, you’re not alone.

Closures due to frost are a regular feature of winter for golfers in the UK, and often it can seem like it happens when the course is playable.

However, there’s a very good reason for keeping golfers at bay.

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“Playing golf in frosty conditions can cause irreparable damage to the playing surfaces on the golf course,” says Richard Jenkinson, course manager at the Golf House Club in Elie.

“Frost on the grass leaf blades themselves tells us that the water inside the leaves is frozen. 80% of plant tissue is made up of water. When this water is frozen, foot traffic on the turf causes the ice crystals in the cells to puncture the plant’s cell walls thus killing plant tissue. Like an egg, once broken, it cannot be put back together. Therefore when frost is evident play may be delayed until the temperature has risen to a level that will allow a satisfactory thaw to take place, thereby reducing the possibility of damage to the grass plant.”

It’s not simply a case of waiting for the greens to turn from white back to green, either. Even after the ice has seemingly melted there is potential for permanent damage if the course is put back in play too soon.

“The time when most damage can be done is when there has been a prolonged and penetrating frost and the top 12mm or so has thawed, making the greens look playable,” Jenkinson adds.

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“This is when plant structure damage, such as root shearing or crown damage can occur. The lateral force of foot fall can cause the frozen surface to slide over the soil below. This shearing action cuts the roots killing the plant. Also, the soft surface is easily marked leaving heel and footprints creating uneven green surfaces.

“These conditions are commonly the most frustrating for the membership. It may appear that the frost has left the surface and the greens are ready for play when in fact they are still thawing out below the surface.”

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