Some of my best memories in golf come on the short, crisp, leaf-strewn days of fall in the Northeast. The grass is always greener, the oppressive heat of the summer is a distant memory and the crowds have thinned out.
So as most of the country bids farewell to the 2010 playing season, packs up their gear and cleans out the trunk, I say, "welcome to fall, embrace it, and enjoy it."
Having spent eight of the best summers of my life working at a working man's country club in New Jersey called Glenwood, the changing of the clocks was always greeted as the last few days of school. The staff knew the 15-hour days of summer were in the rear-view mirror, so with dark descending around 5 p.m., even an open-to-close shift felt like a half-day. The mood amongst the members would relax. The tournament season was over and the handicap system would go on hiatus until spring. By this time of year, only real hearty golfers would still show up on their normal days, but some of the intensity was gone.
I found that Sunday afternoons in the clubhouse were more like Thanksgiving with the family, with golf serving as the appetizer. A quick 18 in the morning, the Giants or Jets game on the big screen in the afternoon. The menu shifting from burgers and sandwiches to meatloaf with mashed potatoes, and split pea soup and juicy roast beef and all the sorts of things you'd expect at Mom's.
I never felt a stronger affection for my job or for the members than during those short, cool days when it was far less about the golf and far more about the camaraderie. As a close-knit club that's the opposite of posh, the membership was a wonderful mix of firefighters, local businessmen, a few bartenders, and enough Wall Street types just to keep it interesting. Of course there were the funny drunks who would scream at the TV and make us laugh, and the obnoxious drunks who would scream at the TV and embarrass themselves. My favorite was the Japanese doctor - we called him "Doc," naturally - who knew nothing about football but after a couple pitchers of beer could zing the dismal Jets with the best of them.
These days, as a rabid golfer, I see how the final weeks of the year are a final hurrah at the end of a long golf season. With somewhere around 50 rounds under my belt, I can enjoy the end of the season a bit more. I know the GHIN computer's not awaiting my scores. I've got no concerns about preparing for the next big thing, whether it be the club championship, a golf trip, or any other mini hurdle set in my mind.
In a way, autumn golf in New Jersey is like trying to diet before Christmas. What's the point?
By stripping away all the other pieces of the game, it's back to golf as I first learned it. Hit the ball and chase it. Hit it again. Quit stressing over every bogey and triple bogey, and enjoy every birdie a bit more knowing it might be the last one of the season. With most of my fellow golfers off pumpkin picking with the kids, or at soccer practice, the courses can be empty, clearing the way for nine holes with two balls, letting them play a match against each other, or maybe a one-man better ball, or for kicks just playing a scramble by yourself.
On top of the relaxed nature of golf in the fall are all the benefits. Not only are the masses staying away, but the prices fall dramatically. A little homework for my day job shows that the top rated public course in New Jersey - Atlantic City Country Club - has dropped its rates from a season high $225 to an amazing $65 (and $45 if you're OK teeing off at noon and trying to race around before the sun sets).
How about the chance to play a Pete Dye at a discount? New Yorkers can play a brute called Pound Ridge Golf Club just outside the city (it's also easily reached from North Jersey and Connecticut) for $150, down from a peak of $235 during prime time, in-season.
No matter where you live, there's a great chance you'll get on the area's best track at a fraction of the price. As my wife says, she never pays retail. As golfers, it seems like a great mantra.
Finally, there's something about teeing it up, wearing an extra layer, knowing it might be 55 on the first tee but it will be closer to 40 by the 18th green. But if you're thinking of packing it in, just think back to February when the greens are blanketed by snow and you'd do anything to find a few patches of grass and a temperature above freezing. Fall is the end of the year, the last crumbs of chocolate on your plate of delicious dessert. Just savor it, because you don't know if it's going to be your last taste for a painfully long time.