Kevin Duke

I am on the phone with Juniper Golf Club superintendent Kurt Noonan on Thursday, and he is lamenting the lack of rain his club in Redmond sees in comparison with other courses in the area.

An hour later I receive a text.

“Forget what I said about low rainfall at Juniper,” it read. “Under a huge rainstorm right now, 1.25 inches of rain in last 45 minutes, Yikes!”

Noonan tracks the rainfall at his course religiously, and at a course that he says sees a norm of just more than 6 inches per year, he got one-fifth of his usual yearly total with a single storm.

He is not the only superintendent in the area happy with the unusual weather this year — the mild winter and the rains of the past two weeks have many of them counting their blessings — and Central Oregon golfers have been enjoying excellent conditions at courses far earlier than usual.

Nonexistent winter

The lack of snow combined with mild temperatures over the winter helped area superintendents in many ways.

“It really started in early winter with the rains that came in,” said Mike Kisic, superintendent at River’s Edge in Bend. “In November and December we got a lot of rain and it replenished all the moisture. The soil wasn’t frozen, so the ground was able to accept it.”

Noonan saw the lack of frozen ground as a big plus at Juniper, too.

“Every time we had a cold snap we had a layer of snow to insulate the grass, so the ground never really froze more than an inch or two,” he said. That allowed him to complete projects on the course that normally he would not have been able to start on until much later in the spring.

It was more of the same at Tetherow in southwest Bend, where superintendent Chris Condon was able to sod areas that had been damaged in 2014.

“This winter helped us out tremendously; we had some recuperating to do with damage we suffered last season,” Condon said. “The mild winter helped out the regrowth of grass for this year.

“We’re a lot further ahead of the game and did a lot of projects and construction renovation that we couldn’t normally do because of the frozen ground. We built or enlarged three new tee boxes, created a couple of waste bunkers and changed green complexes by sodding, which we couldn’t have normally done in the winter.”

At River’s Edge, Kisic and his crew were able to dig into the soil over the winter, putting in new irrigation pipes that would have had to wait until spring in a normal year.

No ice is nice

Exceptionally cold temperatures can mean big problems for green complexes in the winter, as ice can form on the greens and cause winterkill of the grass.

But the superintendents were spared that problem for most of this winter.

“The ice on the greens only lasted for a couple of days,” said Josh Knapp, superintendent at Aspen Lakes near Sisters. “After the big snow in November, when it all melted, we had some puddles of ice on the greens, but they went away fairly quickly and it wasn’t a problem.”

The lack of brutally cold temperatures made the winter less worrisome for the Tetherow and Juniper superintendents, too.

“With the mild temps, we didn’t have any ice conditions,” Condon said. “Usually, you have to count the days of ice coverage, but we didn’t have to deal with any of that this year. It was a nice break — I didn’t have to worry as much this winter as usual.”

“We didn’t have any killing weather,” Noonan added. “With ice on the greens they can get severely damaged, so we were very appreciative that we didn’t have to worry about any of that this year.”

Bring on the rain

Around Bend over the past two weeks, there has been some muttering about the nearly daily rainfall that has inundated the area.

“I moved away from the (Willamette) Valley to get away from this rain,” I overheard just last week. But you will not hear that from the guys who take care of these courses — they are thrilled.

At River’s Edge, where the turf is already a bright, lush, emerald green, Kisic loves it.

“It’s going to be paying off for us all season; the course will be much more durable in the heat,” he said. “The turf is already getting healthy and dense, so it will help us all year.”

His course, along with Aspen Lakes, Tetherow and Juniper, have not used their irrigation systems since the rains began.

“The rain typically lasts for a day or two, but this has been consistent,” Aspen Lakes’ Knapp said. “We’ve had the irrigation off for last couple of weeks. We will play it by ear on when we turn it back on, maybe once it starts to heat up.

“With all the moisture and it supposedly warming up next week,” he said Thursday, “we’ll be having a hard time keeping up with mowing.”

At Tetherow, “We haven’t turned on the water for last week and a half,” Condon said, “It’s a great thing to have in a climate that’s arid and dry.

“I’m always really happy when it rains at times when we don’t normally get it.”

Even after Thursday’s deluge at Juniper, the effects of the rain will be short-lived, Noonan said. But the timing could not have been better.

“We aerified and overseeded some walk-on and walk-offs (approaches to tees and greens) in April, prior to the rains, and it’s really helped in those areas,” he said. “In the short term it’s fantastic, but with our volcanic soil it drains very quickly, so the rains will help for a short amount of time.

“The grass has really benefited because of the rainwater (versus irrigation water), but as soon as we start to heat up, the moisture will be gone.”

That has not stopped him from celebrating, however.

“Whenever it rains in summer,” Noonan said, “I do a happy dance.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7868, kduke@bendbulletin.com.

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