Gary, our superintendent, had to mow the fairways today (see above), but he and his crew also put the snow cover on the practice green (see below). The grass is still growing, but winter is coming.
This is the time of year when every round is a bonus round. It’s also the time of year when my friends and I permit ourselves to lift, clean, and creatively place our balls within a foot or two of where we find them, even in bunkers. I used to fret about this brazen violation of the game’s rules; golf’s most sacred imperative, after all, is “play the ball as it lies.” But I’ve stopped feeling bad about rolling them over. As Tim said once, “There’s a genuine art to improving a lie.”
Adopting so-called winter rules creates shot-making possibilities that few of us would experience otherwise. There’s a par-five on my course that I seldom reach in two—unless I’ve sliced my drive into the weedy wasteland to the right of the fairway and perched my ball on the crest of a tee-like tuft of desiccated scrub, so that I can smack it with my driver. Even I can produce backspin with my wedges if I’m hitting them from a patch of frost-burned turf. Fluffing up the rough on the edge of a greenside bunker enables me to hit parabolic flop shots, just like Phil’s.
Golf courses would be cheaper to maintain if we all played all the time by winter rules. Fairways wouldn’t have to be manicured; in fact, inconsistent playing conditions would be prized, because they would offer a spectrum of exploitable lies. Casual cheating would be neutralized, since the guys who now depend on foot-wedges would lose their competitive advantage. Divot holes and clumps of mud would cease to matter. Equipment manufacturers would thrive, as players rethought their choice of clubs. (How about a huge-headed wedge for plucking a ball from the peak of a carefully molded cone of bunker sand?)
Of course, we would lose something, too. Preferred lies are like wild cards: real royal flushes are devalued when threes and nines are wild. For most of us, though, the gain would more than offset the loss. There’s something thrilling about launching a big banana from the tee and shouting, “Get in the rough!”