Winter in the Mid-Atlantic

Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
JSpencerRogers@msn.com  

Everything, including golf in January, is different in the Mid-Atlantic region. In this clump of misfit states stuck somewhere between New England and Deep South, even the grass on our courses is different. People who study such things call this a “transition zone,” which is a fancy way of saying that only certain grasses normally prosper here – the kind of grasses nobody wants to play golf on. Go north of here, and your spikes will tear up Bent grass. Go south and your ball gets buried in Bermuda.

But here in the Mid-Atlantic, we get weird mixes and hybrids, because Bent reacts to our inconsistent weather by getting diseased, and Bermuda spends half the year dormant, the color of coffee with cream. So we get Ryes and Blues and Fescues, and genetically engineered versions of Super Bent. Then we get a yearly warm-weather explosion of Poa Annua, that wonderful, urine-colored stuff with gigantic seed heads at the top that kills the normal grass on the greens. For a month and a half in the spring, it’s like putting on peanut brittle, then the Poa Annua dies, and there’s no grass at all.

Of course, we don’t have to worry about Poa Annua unless we actually survive the winter. Winter golf is different here in the transition zone, too. Go north, and the courses have closed. Go south, and they’re open for business, just playing on that dormant Bermuda. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, we’re open – unless we’re closed, which depends on the vagaries of Old Man Winter, who tends to be a little bipolar when it comes to weather in this region.

On Friday this week, I played 18 holes wearing a short-sleeve shirt. On Saturday I gave half a lesson to one of my juniors who was almost oblivious to the snow that was not so much falling as ripping through the driving range laterally, pasting itself on Nathan’s back and my left side. The snow rode a wind in from West Virginia that, if personified, would have to be described as angry. It’s kind of like winter in Denver, but with more subtle mountains.

This winter has been typical in its inconsistency. November suggested a quiet entrance to winter – it was mild and fairly dry. Then on Dec. 5, we had snow followed by ice, and it stayed so cold through the month that the greens were not ready again until after Christmas.

Up north, they’re used to this stuff. The almost daily lake-effect snow leads to larger bar tabs and larger families, and they know there is no golf until spring. They hibernate and deal with it. We get cabin fever. Losing three weeks in December is especially difficult, because so many of us were planning to burn that last week of vacation time before the end of the year. Instead we burned two cords of wood. It’s the possibility of playing golf in the winter that makes it so hard on golfers when they can’t play.

I think it was Tantalus in Roman mythology whose punishment in hell was to be neck deep in a stream with fruit hanging just above him. If he got thirsty, the water level would drop. If he got hungry, the branches of fruit would rise out of reach. That’s winter golf in the Mid-Atlantic.

During the downtimes at Lakeview Golf Course, guys straggle in, hoping against hope that we’ve opened nine holes. They’ll spend their gift certificates, won in various charity events and club tournaments through the warm months, before they expire. Maybe they’ll buy cart-mitts and rain-pants, or turtlenecks and those little hand-warmer packs.

Then they’ll buy a cup of coffee and wait for enough stragglers to convene court.

A foursome sitting in the concessions area is enough to have a hearing on the performance of Michelle Wie against the big boys out in Hawaii; to evaluate the teaching aid being advertised on The Golf Channel (which is on in the snack bar, of course); to discuss evidence of the improvement of Larry’s swing over the past two seasons; and of course to share information on the best spots for a winter golf getaway.

Now it’s January, and I’m changing from sleeveless shirts to wool socks in 60 seconds. I’m organizing the annual Pinehurst Trip for the usual group of members and friends. I’m giving indoor golf lessons at a local fitness center. And like everyone else in the Mid-Atlantic, I’m sneaking out to the course any time the mercury rises and the wind subsides for a four-hour stretch.

The consensus at Lakeview is that the harsh December will lead to mild weather for the rest of the winter. But I’m afraid that hopeful golfers make poor meteorologists. And you have to excuse us deluded golfers from the middle states, from the transition zone. Ours is a greater challenge. We’re neither here nor there. We sort of play golf all year-round. We’re like sad little marionettes for that demented Old Man Winter. Right now we’d settle for that bumpy cannibal Poa Annua on the greens, as long as there’s no ice.



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