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TCP at Sugarloaf surviving hard winter

Snow covers the second hole at TPC — Sugarloaf during the first snow and ice storm a few weeks ago. (Special Photo)

Snow covers the second hole at TPC — Sugarloaf during the first snow and ice storm a few weeks ago. (Special Photo)

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Snow covers the seventh hole, above left, and the second hole, above right, at TPC-Sugarloaf during the first snow and ice storm a few weeks ago. (Special Photos)

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Snow covers the 18th hole with a frozen lake at TPC — Sugarloaf during the first snow and ice storm a few weeks ago. (Special Photo)

In the new offices for the Greater Gwinnett Championship a few weeks ago, there was a meeting of tournament organizers and staff, planning numerous aspects of the second-year tournament.

Stan Hall, the executive director of the Gwinnett Sports Commission, was a part of the gathering and as discussions of golf persisted, he looked out the window toward the course’s signature hole.

“I looked out the window and the lake on the 18th green, literally, was frozen solid,” Hall said. “I said, ‘As long you don’t look out the window and see how cold it is we can talk about golf. But if you stick your head out the door it’s really hard to get in a serious discussion about golf right now.’”

Their talks centered on the tournament, events and schedules, sponsors and venders. But what Hall saw, or rather admired through glass thick enough to ward off the elements, was the stage. While they discussed the lighting and set decorations and seating charts of the Champions Tour golf tournament, the event’s platform lay frozen under a harsh winter.

“It’s been a challenging winter,” said Mike Crawford, the superintendent of golf at TPC at Sugarloaf. “It really goes beyond the last couple of weeks that we’ve had. The temperatures have been so low.”

It’s Crawford, an award-winning golf superintendent, and his staff’s job to prepare the golf course for its members to play and to ensure the most picturesque presentation for television and spectators during tournament week.

To understand Crawford’s challenge means understanding grass.

Sugarloaf uses two types of grass as the playing surface for its fairways and tee boxes, the bulk of the course used, at least by professionals. In the late fall and spring they use ryegrass before transitioning to Bermuda grass mid-summer. Crawford equates the grass to agriculture.

“It’s a cycle that we go through each year,” Crawford said. “It’s a challenge to grow both grasses because it’s not like one goes away and the other is ready to go right away. It’s a balancing act that we have to go through each year. Some years the weather helps you more than others.”

But the balancing comes well after the Greater Gwinnett Championship in the spring. Crawford’s concern for the tournament is the strength, durability and vibrance of the course’s ryegrass.

While the two major ice and snow storms seem the most readily visible signs of problems for Crawford, the superintendent said snow falling, even mixed with ice, actually don’t do much damage.

“Snow doesn’t hurt anything, it actually acts as an insulator,” he said.

The rapid and massive swings in temperature also have little impact on the ryegrass, said Crawford, because it’s not a grass which goes dormant and germinates again in the spring. The Perennial Ryegrass used at Sugarloaf stays alive all winter long. It’s not akin to trees beginning to blossom before a deep freeze kills the signs of spring on the limbs.

The challenge has been the cold.

The extreme low temperatures for the region have kept the ryegrass from growing much at all over the winter. The limited growth has slowed the maturing process for the grass, but not enough to concern Crawford about its springtime viability.

“It does make me a little nervous when we get the extreme cold,” Crawford said. “We are very fortunate that our ryegrass establishment in the fall is one of our better strands of ryegrass going into the winter months.”

Though projects around the course slowed during the cold and storms and even the growth of the grasses languished, Crawford said by April the course should glow in emerald green.

“We just need a week or two of good weather and there is plenty of time before the tournament,” Crawford said. “April is the perfect month for growing ryegrass here in Georgia.

“We are very confident that we are going to have great playing conditions.”