This might seem like a silly question to the average person who doesn’t play golf, but to us who do play golf, it’s an imposing question. Many golfers who play once or twice a week during the spring, summer and fall put their clubs away for the winter and don’t bring them out until warm weather arrives. However, for those of us for whom the golf season never ends, our clubs are always either in the trunk of our car or close by.
I checked my calendar and saw that I played golf for the last time in 2016 on December 5. In previous years, I’ve played as late as Christmas Eve, to my wife’s consternation. For the past decade and a half, I’ve traveled to a warmer climate—Florida, South Carolina, Arizona—to play golf for a week or two. But in those off years when I didn’t go south, I’ve tried to find a day here and there to get in at least nine holes of golf.
Like many of you, I have been stuck here in Ohio this winter, so I’ve tried to play whenever possible. I must admit that I get some sort of perverse pleasure in playing golf in Ohio every month of the calendar. This year so far, I have played golf on January 19, February 6 and 14 (Valentine’s Day was a close second on that date), and Monday, February 20, for my third round of the month. One year we started our round at Firestone Public 9 when the temperature was around 42 degrees, but by the time we finished it was closer to 32 degrees. I’ll admit, we were pretty damn cold; my fingers were numb, and I couldn’t feel my toes. But that didn’t matter as much as the score, which was just about the same as the warmer summer scores. Maybe it doesn’t matter the temperature so long as I’m hitting the ball well. Greens tend to be slower in the winter, way slower, so I have to adjust how hard I putt the ball. I have to make other adjustments as well, such as hitting a club that gives me two times the distance I would experience in the summer. That’s because I’m cold and stiff and the ball is cold and doesn’t go as far.
I am revealing this to those golfers who consider golf only a warm-weather sport—which indeed it is, unless you plan ahead and take advantage of the warm winter days that seem to be occurring more and more in Ohio (climate change?). For one thing, golf is a good exercise for those of us who are housebound when the cold weather arrives. It gives us a chance to loosen our muscles and joints and get some fresh air into our lungs. Stretch beforehand and wear appropriate clothing—not a puffy coat or a binding jacket. Instead, dress in layers. Start with a cotton undershirt, layered with a long-sleeved t-shirt and, finally, a short-sleeved golf shirt. On top put a windbreaker, either short- or long-sleeved, with a collar because you’ll want to protect your neck against the cold wind. You probably know already, but you should be aware of the wind-chill factor; that’s when the cold wind swipes the warmth from your skin. And don’t forget to stretch—not the kind of stretch where you hold a couple of clubs and jerk them wildly to the right and just as wildly jerk them to your left. That does you more harm than good; that movement actually tightens the muscles and therefore limits your swing. Instead, use your sand wedge (its the heaviest club in the bag) and slowly push it as far as you can in your back swing, then with each deep breath push the club a little farther and hold it there until the next breath at which time you push the club farther. At the end of this slow back swing, your shoulder should be under your chin, if not farther. Repeat this on the follow-through, then hold your arms straight and lower the club backwards over your head. This is probably going to hurt, so don’t hold that pose for long. Then finally hold the club in both hands at its end and gradually lower the club to your toes. This will take several breaths at first, so don’t strain yourself to reach your toes. If you repeat these exercises all winter long, you’ll be nice and limber by summer.
Several courses are open year round, depending on the weather. The courses that you can count on are the ones with covered and heated driving ranges. The courses that I’ve played during the winter include: Firestone 9 (almost always open), the same with Turkeyfoot, Raintree, Shale Creek in Medina, Lake View in Hartville, Sycamore Valley, Brookledge in Cuyahoga Falls and a few that I can’t remember. It’s a good idea to keep your eye on the weather and call your favorite course to see if it is open. You’ll notice that the Akron Municipal Golf courses are not on this list. Good Park and Mud Run close with the first sign of snow and don’t open again until near spring arrives. This may be a budget issue, in that the city doesn’t have the money to staff the course (one person), or they can’t find enough people to work on such a sporadic schedule. I think the city could easily cover the cost by blasting an email to its extensive mailing list that they will be open on the days that are above, say, 50 degrees. I personally will golf in almost anything over 40 degrees, and I can find plenty of golfers to play with me.
I’m not worried about March because I have not missed playing in March since I took up the game in 1998. Why don’t you join me this month and shake the rust off early? Not only are the courses less crowded, but you will meet some of the most interesting people, whom you won’t necessarily meet in the summer. Sipping from a thermos of coffee is totally acceptable, as are right-handed gloves. Have a good game.