Critical Weather Tool for Winter Golfers

Each winter, my friends and I patronize several public golf courses within a hundred-mile radius of where we live. The courses are ones that stay open through the winter as long as they aren’t covered with snow, but sometimes it’s hard to know for sure whether they’re open or not, because we have to leave home before anyone is likely to be in the golf shop to answer the phone. That means we sometimes arrive at a course only to discover that we won’t be playing there that day after all:

Tunxis Plantation Golf Course, December 21, 2014

Actually, on the day shown in the photo above, we found a course that really was open, after making a bunch of calls from the parking lot. Recently, I discovered a trick that would have saved us a lot of driving that day. The Wundermap feature of the website Weather Underground includes links to webcams associated with many of the public and private weather stations in its vast network. If there’s a functioning webcam near a course you’re hoping to play, you see check the actual conditions, in real time, before you leave home, like this:

Oops—no golf today.

Unbroken (by the Stupid Weather)


My home course has been closed since shortly before Thanksgiving, so we’ve been playing around. I was traveling (without golf clubs) two Sundays ago, but everyone else played at Tunxis Plantation, which is about an hour from where we live, and last Sunday we went back. I rode with Other Gene. Snow was falling when we left home, and it continued to fall as we drove, and when we were maybe fifteen minutes from Tunxis I realized that it was probably going to keep falling and not melt by the time we got there. And that’s what happened. So we held a conference in the parking lot:


We called every golf course we could think of and discovered that Fairchild Wheeler, in Fairfield, was not only open but “with greens.” The Wheel is just an hour from Tunxis, so that’s where we went. Tim showed up as we were pulling out, but he decided to be a good husband by returning home and giving his wife holiday-related opportunities to be angry at him in person. When the rest of us arrived at the Wheel, a maintenance guy with a leaf blower was removing snow from a putting surface:


We played the Black. The young woman at the desk in the golf shop let us go out as a fivesome after Hacker (real name) assured her that we would play faster than any threesome on the course. And he was telling the truth, because there was a threesome directly ahead of us and we waited on pretty much every shot, including this one, on a long par 3:


Hacker and I took on Gene, Gary, and Kevin (who was visiting from law school). We beat them by three shots, but rather than pocketing our winnings we used them to pay for most of everybody’s lunch.


During the cheeseburger course, Gene suggested that we adopt some kind of ongoing off-season competition, analogous to the FedEx Cup, and we all agreed that that was a good idea. Recently, I wrote about some guys in Massachusetts who call themselves the Winter Tour because they play all winter. Borrowing that name seemed easier than making up a new one, so that’s what we decided to do. Hacker, as always, will devise the format and the scoring system; my assignment is to talk to the people who make Jagermeister—the official cold-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group—and persuade them to become the Winter Tour’s lead sponsor.


If they give us just hats, say, we’ll agree to call ourselves something like “the Winter Tour of the Sunday Morning Group (in association with Jagermeister).”


But if they give us shirts in addition to hats, plus maybe some actual Jagermeister, we’d be willing to go as far as “the Jagermeister Tour (in association with the Sunday Morning Group).” Their choice. And if they’re really accommodating we’ll add their logo to all our other branded merchandise, including our regular hats and our bumper stickers.


The company’s headquarters are closed till after the New Year (when the Winter Tour will be playing at Shennecossett, in Groton ) so the actual negotiations won’t begin until then. I’m assuming there won’t be a problem. I’ll post an update as soon as I have the details.


Winter Golf and a Previously Unknown Type of Cheeseburger

These cars belong to my friends and me. There were no other cars in the parking lot at Tunxis when we got there on Sunday morning.

These cars belong to my friends and me. There were no other cars in the parking lot when we arrived on Sunday morning.

We got what seemed like a foot of rain on Saturday. That was good in one way, because it washed away most of the snow, but it was bad in another, because (apparently) it persuaded the people who make the decisions at Tunxis Plantation Country Club not to open the following morning, even though Hacker (real name) had called the evening before and left a message that we would be there at 9:30, ready to go. I sensed trouble as I approached the clubhouse: of the ten or so greens I could see from the road, only one had a flag, and the parking lot was empty except for cars that belonged to people I knew. Hacker started calling around the state, but the places he tried either weren’t open or weren’t answering the phone. (Suggestion to golf courses that don’t shut down for the entire winter: update your website and outgoing voice-mail message every night with information about the following day.) Finally, he found an open course, and it was just thirty-five minutes farther away. So we caravaned:

P1110660And then we spent a very enjoyable day at Lyman Orchards, which, like Tunxis, has forty-five holes. One of Lyman’s eighteens was designed by Robert Trent Jones, and the other was designed by Gary Player. The fifth nine—called the Apple Nine—is new, and is (I would guess) for kids and beginners. There’s also a golf school and a driving range.

Lyman Orchards is also an orchard, and there's a big store in which you can buy apples and apple-themed stuff.

Lyman Orchards is an orchard. There are apple trees in the middle of the course, and there’s a big store, called the Apple Barrel, in which you can buy apple-based and apple-themed products. Maybe your wife would like to tag along some Sunday, and spend a few hours shopping for apple butter while you and your friends are playing golf.

We first played Lyman several years ago, and at that time they kept both eighteens open all winter. Now they shut down the Jones course—which is too bad, because the Player course is definitely second best. It’s also a pain to walk, because you always seem to be climbing to the top of a huge hill in order to hit your ball to the bottom of it, and then walking miles to the next tee. Still, golf.

The conditions weren't what you would call perfect, but the course was open. In fact, it was pretty busy.

The conditions were not what you would call perfect, but the course was open. In fact, it was almost somewhat busy.

On most of the holes, the flags wouldn’t go back in the cups straight, and on some of the holes they wouldn’t go back at all. The reason was that the little holes at the bottoms of the cups were all either partly or entirely full of sand. I tried to clean one out with a tee and a green-repair tool, but that was a fool’s errand. The greens themselves were squishy on top, and some of them had bare patches, but we kept being surprised at how un-slow they were.

Afterward, we decided to eat lunch at a place we hadn’t tried before, the Rover’s Lodge, on Beseck Lake. The house specialty (according to a big sign facing the road) is “steamed cheeseburgers”:

P1110675A new form of cheeseburger? How could we not? I learned later that the steamed cheeseburger is “a food so truly regional that it is found in only about a dozen restaurants within a 25-mile radius of Middletown, in central Connecticut,” and that it “was invented in the 1920s, when steamed food was thought to be healthier than fried.” (You can read more about steamed cheeseburgers here.)

Steamed cheeseburger.

This is a steamed cheeseburger, from a restaurant called Ted’s.

It turned out that the Rover’s Lodge serves food of any kind only “in season,” and that the season isn’t winter. There were about a dozen guys in the bar when we went in, and they were interested, up to a point, in the fact that we had just played golf. Later, I found two reviews of the Rover’s Lodge on TripAdvisor—one that said it was “very good,” and one that said it was “a dump.” It’s possible that we’ll never know who is right, because we continued up the road to New Guida’s Restaurant, where we’ve eaten before. Let me say this for Guida’s: their cheeseburgers, however they make them, are very good. Ditto their fries and milkshakes.


Then we drove home to watch the playoff games.

Guida's. Cash only, please.

Guida’s. Cash only, please.

45-Hole Golf Complex Stays Open for 5 Golfers

Golf weather, duh.

Golf weather, duh.

Our home greens are closed, so on Sunday four of us traveled a little over an hour to the east, to Tunxis Plantation Country Club, which has two eighteen-hole courses and one nine-hole course—all very nice, all completely open, carts available (although we didn’t use them), $35 walking. The parking lot was empty when we arrived, at 10:30. We teed off at 10:45 and were the only golfers on the entire property. The temperature was only 30 or 32, but there was no wind and the course was in terrific shape. I had brought some adjustable winter tees, which I picked up at the PGA Golf Merchandise Show in Orlando a few years ago:

P1110267They’re really meant to be used with mats on driving ranges, but they work pretty well on their own when you can’t get a regular tee into the ground. We didn’t need them, though, because the dirt was still semi-unfrozen.

Tim, Gary, Hacker (real name), Tunxis Plantation, December 8, 2013.

Tim, Gary, Hacker (real name), Tunxis Plantation, December 8, 2013.

On the eleventh hole, a single golfer caught up to us, and we let him play through (see below). On the previous hole, he had sunk a six-foot putt and made a fist pump, even though he was by himself and didn’t know I was watching. He hit a huge, perfect play-through drive, well past all of our drives, but then he shanked his second shot into the pine trees. That made us all feel better about his big drive.

P1110291Hacker and I were both testing some Clicgear pushcart mitts, which we had bought independently at exactly the same time:

P1110294They have Velcro straps, and they attach (as a single unit) to the handles of your pushcart, so that you can slide your (gloved) hands into them. Getting the thumbs in the right place takes a little work. Each side has a pocket for a chemical hand-warmer, although the pockets are slightly too small for chemical hand-warmers, we found—an odd design flaw. We liked them, though. On the sixteenth hole, Tim noticed this sign leaning against a tree:

Translation: we shoot cross-country skiers.

Translation: we shoot cross-country skiers.

We finished in three hours and had lunch at one of our favorite winter clubhouses, Flaggstead Smokehouse. They were out of brisket, but they still had my favorite: pulled rib meat. They were also offering a discount (see below). Only Hacker tried the voice (unsuccessfully), but they gave us the discount anyway, and when we left I bought a pound of pulled ribs and a big thing of beans, to take home.


Winter (Such as it Was) is Over

Two extra handicap strokes for wearing shorts after January 1. No penalty for frightening legs.

Six of us played at Tunxis Plantation this morning, and two of us wore shorts. The grounds crew had just finished mowing the greens for the first time in 2012, and the grass became noticeably greener as we played. By the time we putted out on the eighteenth, at a little after 11:00, even shorts felt sort of suffocating.

Our superintendent played with us. He said that he attends a meeting at Tunxis in late March every year, and that in the past the course has always been closed and, usually, either covered with snow or frozen. That won’t be the case this year. The parking lot was filling as we drove away (to the barbecue place down the road), and the thermometer in my car read 67 degrees.

Living, growing divot, March 8, 2012, Farmington, Connecticut.


Stroke Bank: A Refinement

Last night, we tried to reserve a tee time for today at the Links at Union Vale, but the course was fully booked into the afternoon—a February Wednesday in New England as busy as a summer Saturday. So we went back to Tunxis Plantation, which was still first-come-first-served. We teed off a little after 9:00, and again played Stroke Bank/Second Ball Decides—see earlier post—and thought of a further improvement: Stroke Deposits.

Let’s say you make a 4 and your partner makes a 5 on a par-four, while your opponents both slice their drives out of bounds and end up with 7s. You and your partner have the low gross score on the hole, so you have to commit first. If you keep your 4 and 5, your opponents, if they wish to halve the hole, will need to use a lot of strokes. In fact, one of them will have to use three strokes (to turn his 7 into a 4, tying your par) and the other will have to use two strokes (to turn his 7 into a 5, tying your partner’s bogey). Alternatively, your opponents could choose to win the hole outright—if either of them is able and willing to spend four strokes (to turn his 7 into a 3, thereby beating your 4, which is your team’s better ball).

If you don’t think they’re likely to do those things, or if you don’t care whether they do—maybe because you’re ahead in the match, or because they’re running out of strokes with hard holes still to play—you or your partner can choose to bank some or all of your surplus. For example, you yourself could deposit as many as three strokes, turning your 4 into a 7. Now your opponents can halve the hole if one of them spends just two strokes, turning his 7 into a 5 (thereby tying the other ball as well). But you’d have increased your stroke-bank balance by three, a trade-off that might be advantageous for you on the holes ahead.

This game, in practice, is nowhere near as complicated as it probably sounds. But there’s lots of psychological intrigue, and the four of us had many long, whispered strategy discussions as we walked from green to tee. Hacker (real name) and I lost three ways to Rick and our superintendent, but the match, as somehow always happens, came down to the final putt. And when we walked off the eighteenth green the sun was shining, and the Weather Underground app on my phone said the temperature was 56 degrees. We stopped at a barbecue place for lunch on the way home, and we’re all going to play again on Sunday.

These guys were warming up on the range at Tunxis when we finished.

February Golf, Continued

Tunxis Plantation yesterday. We had some rain and snow a little later, but nothing golf-threatening.

Last week, Hacker (real name) and I had to travel an hour west to find an open golf course; yesterday, we had to travel an hour east, to Tunxis Plantation, in Farmington, Connecticut. We were joined by Mike A., whose company makes boxes, and by our home-course superintendent, who was taking a day off from cutting down trees.

We played Stroke Bank again (see yesterday’s post)—this time with two two-man teams. We combined it with our favorite version of two-man best ball, which is called Second Ball Decides. (If my partner makes a 3 and I make a 5 on a hole, and our opponents make a 3 and a 4, our opponents win the hole because, even though the better balls tied—3 and 3—their worse ball [4] was better than our worse ball [my 5]. The first ball was a tie, so we let the second ball decide.)

On one hole late in the match, my partner (our superintendent) used one of his strokes to force Hacker and Mike A. to spend three of theirs. Nevertheless, we lost both the back and the overall on the seventeenth—although we did win a consolation press on the final hole.