By Jeff Nations
The winter clean up is in full swing at golf courses across the region, but by and large the severe weather hasn't had much of a lasting impact.
"We really haven't had any damage," said Doug Zimmerman, the PGA professional at Bryce Resort in Basye. "Maybe a couple pine limbs from that little ice storm we had, but other than a few pine branches we've been fine. It's just been clean-up with the sticks and limbs and debris, but the course actually looks pretty decent."
Contrast that to Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club, where an ice storm earlier this season forced the removal of a famous landmark. The club had to remove the legendary Eisenhower Tree, a 65-foot tall Loblolly Pine located on the 17th hole and long a menace to would-be green jacket winners, had to be removed last month after suffering severe damage from the ice.
Comparatively speaking, it's been easy going for courses in the Shenandoah Valley despite a mixed bag of severe cold weather, persistent snowfalls and the occasional ice storm thrown in.
Mike Ahrnsbrak, the head PGA pro at Front Royal's Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club, has a photo in his office of well-known television weather personalities Al Roker and Stephanie Abrams at Blue Ridge Shadows for last year's predicted second coming of "Snowmageddon," when up to two feet of snow was predicted for Front Royal. Ahrnsbrak said only six or seven inches came down last March 6, but last year's winter still only allowed the course to open for 10 days in March.
This year, things are looking up despite another potential snowfall slated for later this week. Temperatures on Monday and Tuesday reached the 60s, and the golfers were out in force.
"Anything we can do from mid-December through February, I look at it as a bonus," Ahrnsbrak said. "It all just depends on fickle Mother Nature. We've been able to play some rounds, maybe not as many as we hoped."
What golfers are finding are clear greens and fairways, maybe a bit damp in spots and still on the brownish side, but easily playable. Ahrnsbrak said the snow-heavy winter spared the grass this year. Blue Ridge Shadows is mowing greens this week, and Ahrnsbrak expects that grass to start growing soon.
"If you have more than 60 days of snow and ice coverage, you have to worry about the long-term consequences. The grass goes dormant, but if it's covered with snow for that amount of time and is getting no oxygen, then you've potentially got problems. But there are ways to mitigate that."
Richard Jenkins, club manager at Middletown's Jackson's Chase at Pine Hills Golf Club, said that course also held up well over the winter months.
"You can play no problem, but it's cart-path only right now," Jenkins said on Monday. "We're just waiting for things to dry out a little bit more. We're in better shape than a lot of places. We've got a good run-off system that was put in when [Jackson's Chase] was originally built."
At Front Royal's Shenandoah Valley Golf Club, players might notice a few missing trees around the Blue Course's No. 9 hole. Ice wasn't the culprit, though -- they were removed to make that hole a bit easier to play.
Playing golf during the winter months is always a hit-and-miss proposition, but when the weather is even close to inviting there have been players on the courses.
"On the dates that we we're open, we pretty much hit a home run with it," Shenandoah Valley's PGA assistant pro Monty Goff said. "Like [Tuesday], I've got almost 200 players booked just because people want to get out. A normal Tuesday, it's about 125, 150 and I'm already going to go over 200."
Goff said that on Monday the greens were still a bit bumpy from the freeze and thaw cycles of winter, but after a full week of mowing they should be nice and smooth once more. And if the recent warm snap continues, area golfers might find it harder and harder to schedule a round at any of the region's courses.
"We've gotten a lot of phone calls from people in New York and Pennsylvania because they haven't been able to play for months," Goff said. "They've been completely snow-covered -- no break, no nothing -- and they're trying to find out exactly how far south they have to go to play golf. We're getting a lot of traffic."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>