Kicking The Habit

The 7-week golf downshift: A relatively painless guide to weaning yourself off golf before winter

Fall Golf in new england


We know where this is headed. At some point very soon the bountiful golf season in many parts of the country will be replaced by the barren golf winter. Putting in the basement. Air swings in the shower. The rare mild day you venture back to the golf course will be spent jockeying for space with dog walkers and ornery geese. This is the stark reality for those of us in northern climes, but golf is not a rip-off-the-Band-Aid habit. Like with diet soda or reality TV, you need to wean yourself off it slowly. I call it the seven-week downshift, and it looks something like this.

Week 1: It’s still plenty warm out, but daylight is fading—and fast. There was a point when you were congratulating yourself on scoring that 3 p.m. tee time, but it wasn’t when you were standing in the dark on the 13th tee.

Week 2: Bad news, there are leaves on the ground. Good news, there are leaves on the ground, because now every shot even remotely off line is subject to the broad interpretation of THE LEAF RULE. Ball into the right rough near some fallen leaves? Leaf rule, just drop one. Ball sprayed over a fence and into an elementary school playground? Leaf rule, just drop one. Really, this is the point where golf begins to unravel, and the game as we know it is lost until the following spring. Yet for some reason we press on.

Week 3: The onset of the leaf rule opens up the door for all sorts of other “rules reinterpretations,” most notably when we start rolling it over in the fairway because of patchy turf, rogue acorns, or because, let’s face it, you much prefer this cushy uphill lie with a better angle to the flag. No one has time to quibble now, however. We’re on the ninth tee and sunset is in an hour.

Week 4: The standard money game from mid-season is now on hiatus. You’re now “just out there to have fun,” which, predictably, is making everyone miserable. Someone proposes a closing six-hole match to spice things up, which seemed like a fun idea until your 15-handicap opponent leaf-rules and preferred-lies himself to three birdies in his last four holes.

Week 5: Aeration projects, new tee construction. Your golf course has the feel of a dinner party in which the hosts start doing the dishes and vacuuming the floors while you’re still at the table. No one really wants you there, but the alternative is to go home and watch the Jets, so you just live with the dirty looks and tee up another ball.

Week 6: Layers upon layers. Turns out the best fix for your loopy takeaway is to outfit yourself like an Antarctic explorer. Still, you find something in your swing. You vow to write it down at the turn, but by the sixth hole, you forget what it was, and you can no longer feel your hands.

Week 7: Temporary greens. Naked trees. The golf course is now primarily a domain for those dog walkers (daytime) and underage drinkers (nighttime). Once in a while you spy a high temperature in the 40s and send out a flare to the group text soliciting interest, yet they treat you like the one guy from high school who refuses to get on with his life. It’s over. At some point the clubs come out of the trunk and go into the garage, but by then, you don’t really care.

And that’s the whole point. The purpose of the downshift is to bring golf season not to an abrupt stop, but to a gradual, merciful pause. In stripping the game of the elements we love one by one, it makes it that much more rewarding when you get it all back come spring.

Almost makes you feel bad for people who get warm weather year round. Almost.