Too clear or not to clear, that is the question.
The debate to remove snow/ice from putting surfaces rages on.
Fact #1: We know turf dies under ice cover, we just don't know when it dies. Dr. John Stier. University of Tennessee. (Formerly UW-Madison.)
Fact #2: If the turf is dead, it is dead...removing ice from greens in the spring will not change that outcome. Dr. Kevin Frank. Michigan State University.
Fact #3: The greatest source of turf injury results when the plant breaks winter dormancy, imbibes water for growth and suddenly refreezes rupturing cell walls. (Think of a frozen soda can.)
Fact #4: The longer turf remains submerged under water, the greater chance of turf injury. Mr. GC Superintendent. University of Hard Knocks.
This past winter I went looking for a tractor mounted snow blower that we could use to remove snow cover on our greens. Equipment Manager Tim Johnson informed me of tractor mounted snow blower near Plover that fell into my meager price range. (NASCARS Dick Trickles brother!) The I blower would have worked for us but was narrower than our tractor tire wheel width so I passed on it for the time being. (The ideal machine would be snow blower mounted on a trac mounted skid steer loader, but low ground level clearance doesn't make those ideal choice either. $$$) Assistant GC Superintendent Steve Crubel informed me of a small 4wd tractor mounted snow blower that could be seen at 8th Street Auto. (Member.) So the two of us went over there to see if they would be willing to sell the blower separately or if we could lease the unit for a week to clear our 31 greens. I was told the course to the east of us (no names please) tried using it on his greens, but it kept digging in and getting stuck. (?) My nosiness got the better of me so a reconnaissance of his course was in order and sure enough he had cleared the snow from all his greens! (This was after telling me personally that he would be doing none of that this season. The K9'ver!) It was my professional opinion that clearing greens this early with another "Arctic Plunge" on the horizon would surely spell doom to any exposed plants. See Fact #3 and #4. So I decided I would wait a week before clearing greens when more favorable temperatures and rainfalls were predicted to finally arrive. (With overnight lows nearer freezing.) BTW, those temperatures and rains never really materialized.
Experience breeds instinct: An history
In 2005 we removed the snow and ice from all putting green surfaces only to make the damage worse. When I say worse, I mean close to 100% of the turf was significantly injured or lost. Collar to collar. I concluded after that experience that it might be a better option to let the turf die in the low pockets and drainage swales minimizing the size of the area affected that would need to be regrassed in the spring than to magnify the size of the wound by plowing them off. (Saving both time and materials in the process.)
When conferencing with the superintendent to our south he mentioned he was going to let mother nature take care of the snow and ice and wouldn't be clearing his greens. (As of this posting he hasn't.) He reminded me that course "P" cleared greens in 2005 and witnessed extensive damage to putting green turf whereas he did not clear any greens on course "L" and had ZERO damage! Also he reminded me that this to was the case in 2005 around The Greater Metro Milwaukee Area when multiple courses cleared greens only to suffer significant injury but my former employer at North Hills did nothing to his greens and found them in perfect shape coming out of winter. Darned if you do and damned if you don't.
Remembering we owned a set of tractor tire chains for our old John Deere, Steve and I mounted them on our Kubota Front end loader tractor and was very surprised they fit. We couldn't have pushed snow from our greens let alone traversed the golf course to get from green to green with out them.
Mr. Craig Haltom of Oliphant Golf informed me that Mike Lyons, fellow co-worker and golf course superintendent friend of mine at Lawsonia Golf Courses had cleared a couple of greens of his and was wondering what I was seeing. I gave Mike a call to see what his thoughts were. He determined that his greens looked good and he now had regretted removing the snow due to the huge snow pile rings left around putting surfaces. This reminded me of the days when Dave Murgatroyd at the Ridges used to clear his greens thinking it would allow play on his course sooner. When we compared notes, I always had to laugh when I found we opened the same day! I didn't remove snow here but his golfers had to play over and around green banks there.
A call from Tim Johnson's brother Steve (Golf Course Superintendent at Voyager Village in Northwest Wisconsin) alerted me that his greens had the smell of death and that he would be clearing his putting surfaces over the next couple of days made my mind up for me to do the same. So when Craig asked me to think about clearing my worst greens "even if it was a waste of time" it was an easy sell for me as I told him the course to our east had cleared greens and if I sat back and did nothing and his greens looked good and my greens suffered I would look like the fool. I don't need help there.
It took me four days to clear the snow from 20 greens. It was my goal to clear snow from my worst greens first. Once started, I just kept "plowing" away until all greens but #14 were cleared.
I felt very secure in the fact that your putting greens stood little chance of ice injury due to the late start to winter with snow cover. Our January thaw was over unfrozen ground and excess water drained away before it could form frozen ponds. The ice on our putting greens never really formed until the 10th of February. It is universally regarded that Poa can survive up to 60 days under ice cover. (The duration under ice and time of death has never been validated in laboratory studies.) I was also confident when I could see the retreat of the toe of the snow bank that we could be in good shape. Also the honeycomb or granular structure of the ice upon melt would allow gas exchange to atmosphere when avoiding suffocation.
This is the type of ice cover I associate with turf damage. Clear, hard and tight to the surface. Drop the puck Ref!
I'm sure there will be winter injury in some fashion once again this year; there always is and will be.
If that is the case for us once again after this winter then I have only two recommendations left for you. The first and least expensive would be to purchase multiple green covers with insulation that are large enough to completely cover the putting surface and surrounding green banks large enough to keep water from backing under them when they are down.
My final and most expensive solution would be a complete rebuild of all putting surfaces. Not a bad idea either and in the long run maybe the best option of them all. Both options are expensive and are not perfect solutions in their own right either. Rabbits foots and fingers crossed. _Mk