The Joys of Winter Golf

Llanbobl G.C. Winter Cup winner
Pingu putting out on par 4 with Ping putter

I finally get golf.

I understand all the mysteries of the game.

I even remember the day I achieved this state. It was the final competition of Summer 2013. I had been in a particularly relaxed frame of mind- I’d played some decent shots, some pretty poor shots- but it all seemed to fit. The ball went more or less where I wanted it to – If I hit a bad shot I ended up in a bad place. When I hit a good shot I ended up in a good place. I had reached the golfing equivalent of achieving karuna. Now if only life was as simple as this….

The following week Winter Golf began…

I’m not sure ‘Winter golf’ is the right term. It’s not really golf is it? Or ‘it’s golf Jim but not as we know it’. Perhaps we should call it something else – ‘flog’ perhaps..

The following week Winter Flog began…

In the course of 7 days the golf course had changed from a pristine, emerald, slightly undulating, tightly mown, interesting, tree-lined, water-featured, offering a different challenge on every hole, sandy bunkered and undulating (oops already said that), slick, challenging, but fair greens into a scene resembling the trenches from World War I. There were temporary greens, temporary tees, temporary everything. There were 487 new rules all designed to stop you hitting the ball, and a totally new attitude to go with it. A week ago there was a riotous rabble of jolly chaps and smiley ladies laughing and having such a hoot of a time. Now this was real male, manly, macho time. The testosterone was so intense you could sense that the neural areas of the brain the metabolites were influencing changing patterns of behaviour due to increased neural connectivity and neurochemical characterization.

Winter Macho Flog had begun…

It doesn’t help that this the golf club is at the top end of the Rhymney valley, feels slightly further north than the North Frigid Zone, is 29,030 feet above sea level and colder than a mother-in-law’s love (oops sorry).

There was a time when I was a big, big fan of 365 days a year golf. I even played in the ultimate macho competition – The Winter League – ‘Cock of the North’ as it was called, which summed it up on so many levels. One of the many, many rules of the league was that you had to play on a Sunday morning – whatever the weather – or forfeit the match ( and feel the shame and derision of not playing). The only way out of this was if you and your partner and your opponents mutually agreed to call it off and call it a draw. The winners of the Cock of the North and the club poker champions were invariably the same pair;

Scene – 8:28 on a Sunday morning in the clubhouse looking out at a blizzard;

“I really fancy it today.”

“Me too. I had an early night and whacked down a load of vitamins so look out today.”

“Me too. I love it when it’s nice and fresh.”

“Bracing”

“I find I play better with a touch of frost bite in my fingers – helps my putting.”

pause…..

“Let’s call it a draw and I’ll get the first round”

“Agreed”

“Agreed”

“Brandy for me.”

……………………………. happy days

But non-league Winter golf is supposed to be fun. When you’re teeing off from a rectangle the size of a small face flannel it’s not too much fun. When you’re slipping around in the mud like Bambi on ice it’s not the best feeling. It has prompted one of the best retorts I’d heard on a course though. After getting harangued for putting his opening drive out of bounds a colleague was heard to remark that it was because he had a bad lie on the tee.

However, you eventually succeed in getting your drive away and march resolutely after it praying it’s in the rough or 151 yards from the green. Because (and I’m not sure how universal this is) in our club if you’re 150 yards or less away from the flag you must play off Winter mats. These abominations ( and yes I know all the arguments about why we use them) are the most annoying piece of gold equipment since tassels on the front of golf shoes, and just as useful. They are roughly 2 feet long, 1 foot wide, six inches thick and curled up at the edges like a 3 day old cheese and lettuce sandwich. To be honest it’s easier to play out of a bunker.

You reach the ‘green’. Green it ain’t. The dictionary describes green as;

a. The hue of that portion of the visible spectrum lying between yellow and blue, evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 490 to 570 nanometers; any of a group of colours that may vary in lightness and saturation and whose hue is that of the emerald or somewhat less yellow than that of growing grass; one of the additive or light primaries; one of the psychological primary hues.” ,

i.e. a colour

or b “ The culmination of a golf hole, where the flagstick and cup are located and where a golfer will “putt out” to end the hole. The area of closely cropped grass surrounding each hole.

i.e. a green

Well green the colour it definitely is not – more a greyish, reddish, blacky-brown and ‘an area of closely cropped grass” – I don’t think so either. It’s like trying to putt on a field that has been ploughed by an angry farmer with a team of heavy, drunk shire horses.

However this is only part of the problem – the physical. Mentally….. next time………..

You’re on the green at the uphill par 5 514 yard 3rd at West Mon Golf Club (the highest golf club in Great Britain). It’s blowing a gale and there’s that curious West Mon weather which is a mix of wind, rain, hail and snow. It’s like an angry, but dexterous, polar bear throwing hard rice pudding at you. It stings. You’ve hit the best driver, 3 wood, 3 wood, 3 wood and you’ve just 3 putted from 8 feet. You look at your frozen golf partners and silently ask “Why do we do it?”. They silently shrug back at you and you move to the next tee.

The mental side of Winter Golf is pretty much the same as Summer golf except that it’s magnified. It’s tough.The main problem, for me at least, seems to be an accelerated lack of confidence, and a short term memory. There’s also a concept called private logic;
The first day of Winter golf feels like you’ve never seen a golf club in your life before. Where a week ago( at least in your head) you’d hit an 8 iron to the centre of the green today you’re taking a 6 iron and still leaving it short. The logical part of your brain is saying – “hit a 5 next time. It’s obviously wetter – no run on the ball, colder air, bad lie, uphill ” yet the illogical (private logic) part of your brain would remember the 1 occasion you actually hit the green with an 8 iron and conveniently forget the dozens of times it fell short. It would argue that a 5 iron would be ridiculous and that your playing partners were all hitting 7s or 8s (irrespective of the fact that they were better golfers and still leaving their shots short).

Your mind is composed on 2 parts; logic and private logic. The logic part is well… logical. The private logic element taps in to all your private fears, insecurities, doubts.

For instance, setting aside the shot selection angle for a minute and turning to the condition of the course. Winter golf conditions vary considerably. Some days it’s frosty, the next day it’s raining – the same drive can go 290 yards with a good bounce and a following wind one day – then sink into the soft mud at 200 yards on another day. You know this and your logical part of your bran knows this. However your private logic part of your head still goes through the stages of change; immobilisation, denial, anger, bargaining, depression ………

As I said at the beginning everything is magnified. An 80 yard pitch to the green that would be fairly routine (to think about, not execute) in Summer is a potential nightmare in Winter. In Summer you’d select a club, aim for a spot on the green, swing the club, miss the spot, miss the green and trudge after the ball. In Winter you think about the ground (hard, soft, normal), the green (temporary, cut up, slow) the club you choose (pitch it all the way, bounce it in). In the end you’re so busy worrying about everything you’ll concentrate so hard on getting a wedge 2 inches onto the green 3 yards up from the pin that you forget how to swing the club and end up taking an air shot.

Similarly putting – by the time you’ve worked out how much break to allow, what the wind will do, what would be the best position if you don’t make it, whether the mud is lying toward you or against you, you forget to hit it and leave it 6 feet short (which for a 5 feet putt takes some doing).

Now I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in Summer it’s just exaggerated.

The realisation I’ve finally arrived at is that Winter is not a enchanted time. Winter pixies do not sprinkle their magic Winter pixie dust over Bargoed Golf Club and reverse the principles of Nature – downhill is still downhill. The laws of physics still apply to golf balls in December. Greens that are on a slope in August are still sloping in January. The 14th is still 172 yards long.

Roll on Summer ………..

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