The challenges and joys of winter golf
January 23, 2009
The deep freeze that swept down on the Cape Region last week had its effects on those foolhardy enough to attempt a round of golf immediately after the week-old Arctic front finally moved offshore.
For most of us avid golfer types, 40 on the Fahrenheit is as low as we’ll go in deciding whether to take our chances on 18 holes. On Saturday the 17th, it was still so cold the course stayed closed. By early afternoon the next day, however, it warmed up just enough to convince us to meet on the first tee.
Nonetheless, during the round the course conditions showed several signs of the recent cold front. The very first indication came with our opening tee shots.
Shawnee Country Club is famous (or infamous) for the lack of roll its turf usually provides. On Sunday, however, the ball often ran out for 30 yards or more after the first bounce, what with the ground remaining frozen just an inch or so below the top.
Our approach shots were just as inclined to go far beyond our intentions. For example, I hit a towering high 7-wood toward the 4th green, about 175 yards out from the white tees. Everything about the shot looked like it was going to land in the middle of the green and come to a dead stop.
It did, eventually.
The ball shot back up a good 15 to 20 feet after the first impact, and made several more bounces until it dove into the back edge of the greenside bunker on the left of the hole.
Our attempts to deal with the incredibly hard greens were only fitfully successful. For example, a high-flying 8-iron approach on the fifth hole landed just on the front edge of the green, and ended up on a mound beyond the green in only two bounces. We soon began trying to land our shots well short of the greens, much like the bump-and-run approaches often demanded on Scottish links courses after a summer drought.
The sand trap shots presented their own challenges, thanks to the deep freeze. The sand in most of Shawnee’s bunkers is often pretty soft. It’s not unusual for a wedge shot to dig deeper into the sand than what’s experienced at other Cape Region courses.
On this day, however, only the first half-inch or so of the sand was, as you might say, thawed out. The rest of the bunker might as well have been asphalt, for all the give it had in it. We soon learned that a shallow swing created far less risk of producing an accidental skulling of the ball across the green, as well as reducing the potential to break a wrist.
It being January, the course also presented the usual wintertime temptations, especially with the bare trees that line many of the fairways.
My drive on the par-5 eighth hole clattered into the oaks and maples on the right side of the fairway. We eventually found my ball on the edge of the fairway on the adjacent first hole. There were no easy places to bump the next shot along the ground back toward the eighth hole, so I tried a heroic 9-iron to clear the mini-forest, something I normally wouldn’t attempt in the middle of the summer.
The ball didn’t quite make it. After thwacking into a branch or two, it bounced back into the rough, and on the wrong side of the trees once again.
I then tried a 7-iron. The ball bounced off a few more branches on the downward part of its flight path, and landed just off the eighth fairway. The approach shot stopped just short of the green, and I made a chip and one-putt for the “routine” bogey.
The required adjustments to the winter conditions didn’t seem to have any deleterious effects on our scores. All of us finished within a few strokes of our normal handicaps.
I think the chilly challenges presented by the course simply forced us to concentrate on each shot, which is always a necessary ingredient for good scoring—regardless of the temperature.