When you are a golfer in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, or virtually anywhere that’s north of the Carolinas, the shorter days, cooling temperatures, and falling leaves (the latter of which makes finding a ball – even one that is in the middle of the fairway – an excruciating task) signal the effective end of the season. Sure, there’s gorgeous Indian Summer weather in October, and November may bring the rare “bonus” day, but playing the final rounds of the year is generally grim business. No one wants to finish on a sour note that will hang over his head along with the gray, cloudy skies of winter.
I moved to Virginia in 1998, and while foul winter weather is not an impossibility there (there was the Ice Storm of 2000, for example, which shut down all of metro Richmond and caused me to miss the [at the time] most exciting Super Bowl in history), it was rare not to be able to play year round there, particularly for Yankees like myself.
Prior to that move, I had spent my entire life well north of the Mason-Dixon line. I grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts, passed my college years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and actually returned to Massachusetts after graduation because the winters there were less severe than those in Wisconsin. I lived in the Hartford, CT area for about 15 years before heading to the Dominion State. While Connecticut is considered “Southern New England,” there was certainly nothing “southern” about the weather. While sometimes we’d catch a break and be able to start play in late March, we’d more likely be put off until April, particularly during years like 1994 and 1995, both of which brought winter snowfall accumulations of over 100 inches.
Once in awhile, we’d catch a break whereby there had been little or no snowfall, and we’d find a course – typically near the coast, like Shennecossett in Groton or Winnepaug in Westerly, RI – that didn’t mind grabbing a few bucks from fanatics like us. We’d bundle up to the point where we could barely walk (much less swing a golf club), load up a few flasks-full of “swing-lube” (of varying proof), and whacked balls across frozen fairways and greens. This, of course, was not without its challenges – for one thing, trying to get a tee in the ground was next to impossible. One of our guys eventually solved this problem by sticking a Coleman blow-torch in the bag, which not only sufficiently melted the teeing area but also served as a full-proof method for lighting a cigar.
Getting the ball to stop on an iced up green was another matter – we learned how to land the ball short of the green and let up run on up (a shot that, unbeknownst to me at the time, came in quite handy once I started traveling to Scotland to play golf).
On the positive side, a well-struck tee shot would roll forever, and most ponds serving as water hazards would be frozen over as well, which actually provided some creative shot making opportunities. One thing we never did, however, was to walk out on the ice to retrieve balls (there would be a surprising number of spheroids sitting tantalizingly on the frozen surface, but while we may have been crazy, we weren’t stupid).
So – upon moving to Richmond, I set a temperature threshold of 40 degrees for play. I met my friend Andy, another Yankee transplant from Berwick, PA who was equally enchanted by the “warm” Virginia weather, and we would head out pretty much any time there was no snow on the ground. I do recall the first time we played together; it was at The Dominion Club in the Far West End. It was a perfect late October day; we had skipped out a few hours early from work. While the weather was fine, daylight hours were becoming more scarce, and as we played the 18th, we could see a gorgeous harvest moon appear just over the horizon as we approached the green. Looking back towards the tee box, a gorgeous sunset was in progress. I’m not sure I’d ever seen anything like that before; I know I haven’t since.
For the first seven or eight years of my time there, a combination of enthusiasm for the game and mild winter seasons kept me going through the winter, and the 40 Degree Rule seldom came into play. But one’s blood thins a bit over time, and while I would continue to go out and play on colder days, it was probably more out of a sense of obligation and curing some cabin fever than anything else. And the 40 Degree Rule gradually crept upward.
I now live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and the issues here are different, with 100-plus degree days being pretty much the norm during the summer months. But everything is relative, I suppose. A series of thunderstorms blew in on Friday night, dropping the temperature into the 50’s. My buddy Pat (who grew up near me in Dalton, MA) and I kept our Saturday 9 AM tee time. I had on wool pants and sweater; Pat donned the latest high-tech warm weather gear. We look at each other and laughed. “You know,” I said, “if we caught a day like this today in New England, we’d be out here in shorts.” He nodded, and flipped a tee to see which one of us would hit first.
By the way, we finished in 2 hours and 45 minutes, playing through the only other group that was ahead of us. Like I said, everything’s relative.