Winter Golf on a Course That Doesn’t Close

In my part of the country at this time of the year, avid golfers become migratory. Some fly hundreds of miles south and don’t return until spring, but most of us circle the ground closer to home, like Canada geese searching for open water. We study the sky and the Web and the Weather Channel, and when we hear rumors of snow-free fairways we hit the phones. Quite often, the Sunday Morning Group lands at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a muny about an hour from where we live. “The Wheel,” as regulars call it, stays open all year. Area golfers whose home courses are closed often winter there.

Twelve of us made the trip on Sunday. We had meant to go the Sunday before, but just enough snow fell to shut down all the golf courses within a hundred miles of our town. The Wheel has two eighteens, the Black and the Red. We played the Black, which most of us prefer, although when we started there was so much fog that it was hard to be sure which course we were playing. The fog lifted, then returned, then lifted again, then returned again—and I discovered that my laser rangefinder doesn’t work when a golf hole looks like this:

The fog burned away for good while we were playing the second nine. At the base of the 150-yard marker pole in the middle of one fairway, I found an owl pellet, containing the indigestible parts of whatever the owl had eaten recently (in this case, mostly mice). The owl must have been perched on the marker pole when he coughed it up:

In the grillroom after our round, we ran into some old friends: The Boys, a transplanted winter men’s group from other local courses, including H. Smith Richardson, also a muny, a couple of miles away. The Boys use two custom scorecards when they move to the Wheel: one for when the ground is frozen and one for when it’s not. (They change the stroke indexes of a few holes when the fairways are like concrete, to compensate for extra roll.) Here’s the back of their frozen card:

Their organizer is Mark Haba, who runs a machinery company in Bristol. He collects the money and makes up the day’s teams, using a system that involves printed charts, a zippered binder, and six numbered poker chips. “We count two balls,” he told me, “one gross and one net.” They also play what they call “Chicago” skins—which, as near as I could tell, are just skins. They had thirty-two players on Sunday; their complete roster, including alternates, lists a couple of dozen more:

The main difference between The Boys and the Sunday Morning Group is gastronomic: they eat pizza; we eat bacon cheeseburgers:

Also, unlike us, they don’t give extra handicap strokes for wearing shorts (as Fritz, Barney, and I did on Sunday).

Other than that, we’re basically interchangeable—as cold-weather golfers tend to be.

4 thoughts on “Winter Golf on a Course That Doesn’t Close

  1. David – glad you’re no longer with GD. Their site was finicky to navigate, and I wont miss those pesky pop-ups asking me to subscribe.
    I agree that times are tough in the golfing world. A buddy of mine was recently let go from Golfweek, right after USA Today purchased them. And attendance at the opening PGA events this year has been anemic. Maybe Tiger’s return will flip the worm.
    At any rate, keep on blogging. Really enjoy your writing.
    BTW, do you have a new book coming out any time soon?

  2. Hi David, really glad that you were able to bounce back. In Canada, all of our golf courses close for the season. I wonder if you could share a list of New England golf courses that stay open year round ? Maybe the subject of future post 🙂 ? New York state would be good too. Thank you for keeping up with you blog

    • The courses we’ve had the best luck with are mostly on one side or the other of Long Island Sound. They tend to be municipal courses, although I know of two private courses in that general area, including the one my brother belongs to, that stay partly open–in the case of my brother’s club, one of three nines. Do the Great Lakes have a warming influence similar to that of the Atlantic Ocean? I don’t know specifically of courses that stay open up your way, but if I were looking for one that’s probably where I would start. Canada is tough, in terms of winter golf, I would guess. My wife and I took our kids skiing at Mt. Tremblant at Christmastime one year, and it was almost too cold even to ski. You can always play in the snow, though. I own a pair of snowshoes that I’ve never used for anything but that.

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