For most of the country, March is the time when golfers end their hibernation. Returning to the course is reason alone for celebration, but other influences -- such as nice weather or the prospect of trying out new equipment -- make this round one of the more anticipated of the year.
Count us among the elated ready to hit the links. However, this is far from your average outing. Before you tee it up, here are nine things to keep in mind before your first round of golf in 2016:
It's colder than it feels
Let's call this the "Weather Relativity" rule. In September, coming off a sun-scorched summer, a cloudy, 50 degree day feels like you're visiting the ice planet Hoth. But after three months of winter, those same conditions translate to a trip to the beach.
Don't be the knucklehead who shows up to the first tee in shorts and a golf shirt. While your body may tell you it's warm, trust the forecast and dress appropriately.
Stretch out on the driving range
The golf swing uses a unique muscle combination and memory, one that's hard to replicate in the workout room. Making your first swing of the year on the tee box is a recipe for a disaster. Golf Digest fitness editor Ron Kaspriske says it's important to "prime your muscles before athletic activity," so prior to heading to the first hole, make sure to swing and stretch on the range.
Slow and simple, stupid
Not only at the range, but throughout your inaugural round, tempo should be your primary focus. Chances are your swing is going to be rusty. Trying to smash your new driver or taking a hard whack from the rough will only aggravate any kinks. According to teachers Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, establishing tempo means giving 70 percent of full effort on a swing. This will help you keep your swing under control.
In a sense, you should view this round as a practice session. Like football's mini-camps or baseball's spring training, you don't see players going 110 percent in their first foray of the season. It's about returning to a rhythm.
You're going to stink
One of the best golf-related tidbits I read last year came from Geoff Ogilvy and Martin Hall, as the pair extolled the virtues of not keeping score in our Happiness issue.
"You're spending your hard-earned money to do something that hopefully you enjoy, yet so many people come off the course miserable," says teacher and Golf Channel host Martin Hall. "I stopped keeping score years ago. I enjoy the look of a ball going through the sky the way I think it should, the feel of a chip I've nipped just right. I get pleasure out of the shots when I hit them rather than from a score at the end."
Added Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champ: "Stroke play is a nonsense game; I don't see why anyone would do it who didn't have to."
That's easier said than done; moreover, I know a majority of golfers like keeping score, viewing the practice not only as a challenge but as a barometer of their game.
But, at this juncture of the season, the words of Ogilvy and Hall ring especially true. You're swing needs work, your feel around the greens won't be there, and the course itself isn't in prime scoring condition (more on this in a moment). Keeping score in March serves one purpose: Jacking up your handicap.
And if that's your reasoning, to hell with you, sandbagger.
Don't use new, expensive balls
If you were lucky, a loved one gifted you some golf balls for the holidays. While everyone enjoys putting new ammo into action, this isn't the time. Not only will your shots be going all over the map (at least more than usual), but the course is likely in a soggy state, meaning plenty of plugged, mud-smothered balls.
Go through whatever balatas you have left in your bag from last season first. I'd even buy some cheap new balls at the counter before putting higher-end products into play.
The course won't be in great shape
Look out your front yard. See the yellowish hue and dormant state of your grass? Expect the same from the course's sod. While the fairways should be nice thanks to the divot respite, most of the grass will be a tad froggy and likely wet, and the greens won't be rolled or cut at a fast length. Personally, not my favorite elements to play in, especially with the pristine images of California and Florida PGA Tour venues fresh in our minds.
However, don't let these conditions sour your outlook on a course or its summer outlook. This is simply what Mother Nature looks like this time of the year.
Walk at all costs
Though golf course owners may cringe at this advice, superintendents are nodding in approval. Courses are in such a vulnerable, fledgling state in spring, and the smallest amount of damage can have long-term implications. Carts aren't great for a course's health once you take them off the path. Do your part in preserving the course by putting the bag on your shoulder.
Plus, let's be honest, you need the extra exercise after sitting on your couch all winter.
There's likely no cart girl
It's either still too cold for the cart girl to be circling around the course, or, as most clubs hire high school or college students to man their carts, the course doesn't have an employee in that position. Stock up on snacks and drinks before the round and at the turn.
Just to recap: You're not going to score well, your game is going to be off and the course won't be aesthetically pleasing. Why even bother, you might ask.
Why? Because, in spite of the less-than-ideal environment, it's still going to be a damn good time. Spring golf may not be the game's best iteration. But first rounds, in any walk of life, rarely are; they pave the way for better things to come.