November 21, 2003
This fall has been far better for golf in the Cape Region than last year.
On October 29, 2002, we had our first snowfall. By mid-November golf was no longer an option in the freezing cold.
This year we’ve had much better weather, with daily highs still reaching the low 60s. During a recent round at Sussex Pines Country Club with Rob Witsil and Mike Makowski, we also became reacquainted with some familiar elements of late fall golf.
For example, during October and November golfers frequently convince themselves that the now-bare trees lining either side of the fairways are only “10% tree and 90% air.”
Thinking this way encourages players to take greater risks in trying to hit recovery shots from the occasional hook or slice into the woods.
We can now assure you that the 10% figure is a total lie.
On our second hole, Makowsky hit a towering drive that clipped a ½-thick branch over 60 feet in the air. Fortunately for him, after hitting the branch the ball jerked to the right, converting a potentially vicious hook into a gentle draw.
I believe that was the last time any of us hit a ball into the trees without making our next stroke even worse.
Some of my attempted recovery shots out of the woods produced significant flinching, with good reason. The time interval between the ball being struck by the club and then bouncing off a tree trunk or branch was usually something close to a nanosecond.
The high winds that swept through the area just before the weekend also created a major new hazard on several holes, in the form of vast piles of fallen leaves. Some were 10 to 20 yards wide, 15 yards deep, and about a foot thick.
As I looked out onto the par-four 12th hole from the tee box, I wondered out loud how I could possibly avoid losing my drive among the leaves covering most of the fairway. Witsil laughed and said, “Just land it at the 150-yard pole.”
He had a point. There was perhaps 60 square feet of open green turf surrounding the striped post.
Somehow I managed to land my ball in that general vicinity.
Makowsky wasn’t so lucky. His ball dove into a thick carpet of leaves. This produced a semi-extended, funny discussion about the Leaf Rule and whether he and Witsil agreed to use it when they made their bets before the round.
The Leaf Rule is charming in its simplicity. Under the Strict Rules of Golf, if a player can’t find his ball among the leaves, the ball is supposed to be declared officially lost. The player must then return to the original spot and try again, with a penalty stroke added for misery’s sake.
Under the Leaf Rule, however, if we couldn’t find our golf ball we told the others we were playing the Rule, dropped a new ball where we thought the old one disappeared, and played on.
Much more civilized, I’d say.
In this case, Makowsky found his ball and made a great recovery shot, which ended the debate at that point.
Some aspects of late fall golf, such as playing in the twilight, can be very pleasant.
After our 18-hole round and a brief stop for refreshments, Witsil suggested we play a few more holes, and I agreed. Neither of us thought we could play for very long before darkness would set in.
For some reason, however, we played better than we did during the first 18 holes. Witsil drove beautifully, and his approach shots frequently snuggled up near the hole. I avoided the trees, and made several putts.
The course was quiet and empty, and we played quickly enough that we finished all nine holes. Our drives on the 18th hole were silhouetted against the deeply-reddening sky, but by the time we reached the green I couldn’t see the hole from 15 feet away.
At least under these pleasant playing conditions, however, I didn’t mind at all.