When I use the term “winter golf” I am not talking about trudging through snow drifts and playing orange golf balls. There are certainly people who engage in that sort of activity and enjoy it. Hitting out of a snow drift to a rock hard green, however, isn’t close enough to golf for me. I played in one “Chilly Open” and while it was fun there was no need to repeat that experience.
“Winter golf” to me is the time period in SE Michigan that starts around Thanksgiving and ends when snow blankets the turf. Many courses have closed by 11/1. Often the rakes, ball washers, tee markers, waste cans and even the benches are removed. Greens are no longer mown and hole locations are not re-cut. Getting around the course reverts to walking or pushing since the carts are safely stored in the cart barn.
Despite the rough conditions, this time of the year is very rewarding. The cost of golf plummets. One will often find the course empty so hitting multiple balls and bunker practice can be done easily without the worry of holding up someone else.
My advice for those in the northern tier who want to partake of this cold feast is:
1. Learn which courses remain open – this seems simple but often it is hard to find an open course. And the lineup of winter courses changes year to year. In my area, the reliable place for winter golf is Fox Hills. They only close when snow covers the course or torrential rains turn it into a bog. An added benefit is they have 27 holes so everyone isn’t packed into just 9 or 18 holes.
2. Own a lightweight golf bag – one is going to be walking & carrying or pushing one’s bag. It is a lot easier to manage a 25 pound load versus a 50 pound one. It is pretty comical to watch an out of shape guy lugging a staff bag on his back filled with 16 clubs and 3 dozen balls.
3. Bring your own water – Even when it is 35 degrees, you need to stay hydrated. Beer works too, but if you want to get really buzzed, maybe just stay home and watch golf on TV.
4. Retain an old pair of water proof shoes – It is going to be muddy and wet. There is no point in ruining a new pair of kicks. A “mudder” pair of shoes is a good thing to have. Water proof is also essential as courses will be soggy.
5.Learn where one can jump holes - To get around the inevitable 6-some of plodders who won’t let others play through, know the short cuts. There is no calling the clubhouse to get a ranger out so you need to make your own solution. I once played a round in this order: 1, 2, 13, 14, 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 8, 9. I never had to walk more than 20-40 yards between holes.
6. Lower your standards – If you are looking for a top notch course, they rarely allow play when winter sets in. You are most likely going to be playing somewhere you would never visit in July.
7. Lower your expectations – Balls don’t fly as far and almost every lie is marginal. Greens are slow & bumpy and the last time a new hole was cut was 2 months ago. Enjoy the fact that you are outside and swinging a club.
8. Dress for comfort and the ability to swing a golf club – If you need a down parka to feel comfortable, you may want to skip winter golf. Bulky clothes and golf don’t mix well. I favor a rain suit worn over long underwear and sweater along with a sock hat. Walking will keep you warm. There are numerous modern fabrics that make cold weather very livable.
This list is by no means all inclusive. Most winter golfers have great advice about hand warmers and such. Ultimately, the winter golfer will figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Any additional suggestions from our northern winter warriors?