Playing Golf in the Snow

Weather Forecast screenshotThe weather was grim this past weekend, and the Sunday Morning Group didn’t meet. I paid bills, watched golf and football on TV, and thought about my poor, poor clubs, which were entombed in the trunk of my car:

IMG_3483Six or seven of us used to play golf in the snow almost every weekend through the winter. We each carried just one club, usually a 7-iron, and if the snow was deep enough we wore snowshoes. In the photo below, which is from 1996, those dark things sticking up near our feet are the tops of the posts of a split-rail fence that used to stand behind our first tee:

George and I, in snowshoes, with 7-irons.

George and I, in snowshoes, with 7-irons.

Carrying just a single club is good for shot-making: You learn how to hit it long and short, high and low, hooking and slicing. We used orange or pink balls—unless the snow was so deep that color was irrelevant.

George, me, Michael J.

George, me, Michael J.

It was while playing snow golf that I learned the first principle of the golf swing: the key to power is not effort but ease. Facing a hundred-yard shot and having only a 7-iron to hit it with, I swung easy and launched my ball on a gorgeous left-bending arc into the woods beyond the green.

Snow golf 1996

We walked in single file, to keep footprints to a minimum, and aimed for unspoiled patches, so that the holes our balls made when they landed would be easier to find. I learned that the surest way to track a ball is sometimes with your ears. Even in very deep snow, though, we seldom lost more than one or two.

snow golf 2 1996

According to the U.S. Golf Association, snow golf was invented by Rudyard Kipling, who lived in Dummerston, Vermont, for a few years in the late eighteen-hundreds. Kipling used to paint balls red and hit them into tin cans buried in snow in front of his house, which was called Naulhaka.

Kipling's house in Vermont. He used to hit red golf balls down that snow-covered hill.

Kipling’s house in Vermont. He used to hit red golf balls down that snow-covered hill.

Kipling learned about golf from Arthur Conan Doyle, who visited Naulhaka in November, 1894. “I had brought up my golf-clubs and gave him lessons in a field while the New England rustics watched us from afar, wondering what on earth we were at, for golf was unknown in America at that time.” Conan Doyle wrote later. (Golf wasn’t quite unknown; my own club, two states to the south, was already five years old.)

Kipling's clubs and the rack he stored them in, on display at Naulhaka.

Kipling’s clubs and the rack he stored them in, on display at Naulhaka.

I myself haven’t played snow golf since my friends and I discovered that the golf courses in New York City almost never close. But if the weather stays like this through the end of the year I’ll have to take my snowshoes out of storage.

Rudyard Kipling at Naulhaka, where he created both snow golf and The Jungle Book.

Rudyard Kipling at Naulhaka, where he both invented snow golf and wrote The Jungle Book.

5 thoughts on “Playing Golf in the Snow

  1. Here in Sweden the winter is usually long and cold as well. I play golf on the ice of our lake when it freezes over. The best time to play is with a snow cover of 2 or 3 cm. That way the ball bounces a couple of times and when it comes to rest you can still see it. If the snow gets to deep it is no fun. Here is a picture of me on the ice: http://on.fb.me/19c1wXY
    The sound the ball makes, when it hits the ice is fantastic and sometimes it echoes all over the place under your feet. If you are into long hitting, you should try you driver on the ice. The roll you get is amazing 🙂

    • Nice! A former superintendent of ours sometimes uses an ice-fishing auger to cut a golf hole in the ice on the pond on our fourth hole. (Not all the way through to the water, of course.) One of the most challenging shots on our course: 7-iron the ice green from one of the upper tees. To keep the ball from bouncing off the putting surface, you usually have to hit just short–the exact distance depending on how deep the snow is. If the snow is more than a few inches deep, you have to sort of KISS the bank at the front edge of the pond, to kill it but not stop it.

  2. We lucked out this year in NJ. The Sunday before Christmas, December 22, dawned its usual overcast early winter day. However, the temperature was 60 degrees. By 10:30Am, we were teeing off in 68 degree weather in shorts and golf shirts. Considering that the previous Sunday had 4 inches ouf snow on the ground, we decided to play 27. Perfect early Christmas gift. Unfortunately, as I write this, 8 inches of snow is on the way and temperatures are expected to be 14 degrees tomorrow. But, I’ll always have December 22, 2013 to remember!

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