An American friend of mine, a single-figure golfer, once observed (possibly talking a little bit down to me but being polite about doing it): “If you never manage to break 80 you have no business playing golf. On the other hand, if you can break 80 you probably have no business.” In this vein, Henry Longhurst once noted (in Golf Illustrated magazine in 1955, to be exact): “The trouble with golf in the winter is that you cannot play without three sweaters on and you cannot play with three sweaters on.”
That’s the thing about winter golf – it’s seldom great. I wouldn’t say it’s never great because links golf in winter is often more enjoyable than links golf in summer – the bounces are usually less extreme and the fact that the course will drain so wonderfully, being built on sand, is one of the reasons why links golf is so glorious. But most of us do not live within easy access of the coast and have to make do with what we can. In my youth, being such a foolish avid golfer, on a clay-soiled golf course in Derbyshire, we’d play in the winter as often as we could – and the wind in the Peak District in December and January is not for the faint-hearted! – and this included when the ground was white over with frost or even a light sprinkling of snow. Before non-white golf balls ever became fashionable (pre-Bubba, if you like) we would in those circumstances, so that we could find the thing once we’d hit it, play with red balls. (Feel free to make your own cold-related joke at this point.)
Why do we bother doing this? Writing in 1955, Longhurst admitted he’d given up the ghost on that, saying “with what purring contentment I sit in front of the fire, with the rain pattering against the window, and reflect that never, never, never will I got through it again”. But he acknowledged that he was lucky; as a journalist he could tailor his work to suit himself. “If you repair five days a week to an office,” he added, “then of course you look forward in a different way to your weekend of leisure and exercise and are determined to get it, come what may. Having at certain stages of my life had to catch the same train every morning myself, I sympathise with the feeling.” There but for the grace of God and all that.
One of the more unpleasant manifestations of winter golf are, of course, temporary greens; meaning one has to putt on a mangy bit of fairway instead of nicely mown turf. Having said that, though, at least those circumstances mean that when you three-putt you can quite reasonably attribute the folly to the condition of the ‘green’. And sometimes temporary greens are furnished with extra-large holes, the bigger target being some sort of compensation for the inferior conditioning. The thing is, I can still miss from four feet even then!
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