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Winter Golf

Frozen In Time

The harshest conditions can still lead to cherished memories

Winter Golf

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December 21, 2009

Camus, a high handicapper by most accounts, said that in the depth of winter, he finally learned that within him lay an invincible spring. Hmm. No insight like this has ever visited me during winter.

But here's something that's occurred to me lately, after about five decades of playing golf. The farther I'm removed from score-breaking 80, breaking par, breaking the best round I ever shot on this course, shooting within my handicap -- the happier the round. Ironically, competition can do that. It forces you out of the incessant adding and subtracting -- oh, I won't break 40, oh, I'm 7 over, oh, I need to par-out to break 80 -- and into each shot. Set. Pick a target. Fire. On to the next one.

The other thing guaranteed to remove you from "score-mind" is winter golf. To begin with, no one, not even your local golf association, cares what you shoot; you can't even turn your 115 in. What's more, you don't care either. You're living an adventure. "We played golf yesterday!" "You played golf in January, in Michigan? Are you nuts?" Yes!

Have you ever reached a par 5 because your ball bounced off a pond? Did that at Knollwood in South Jersey one winter. Ever played in wind and rain so strong that you were blown off a tee and a bogey felt better than most birdies? New Jersey again. Have you ever dressed in four layers, starting with silk underwear, wore two pairs of socks, big cartoon gloves between shots, a ski cap and your rain suit and had everyone in the group agree that it was the most fun you'd had all season? That was Sebonack on Long Island two Decembers ago. It's a historic trek, winter golf. And these days golfers have far too few historic anythings. The other day I tried something new: I wore a pair of magnifier glasses to help me see in distance. Wow. Until then, I had no idea that my eyes had gotten so bad the course had turned flat and monochrome -- but the glasses changed all that. Winter golf can revive you in the same way.

More than anything else, winter golf is a walk. Nobody who's played in a wind chill of 35 would ever opt for a cart. Besides adding velocity to the wind, sitting in a cart will turn you into a Popsicle faster than you can say "foe reft".

So there it is. Not worrying about the score, walking, making golf feel like a glorious endeavor, dreaming of chili and football when it's over: that's winter golf.

That, and a new appreciation for a balmy spring day in shorts -- which, is perhaps what old Camus was getting at.

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