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.

Can Ski Gloves Cure the Yips? How to Dress for Sub-freezing Golf

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On New Year’s Day, fifteen of us played the Red Course at the Wheel. The temperature was 20 when I woke up and 25 when we teed off, and it never got to more than a degree or two above freezing. Our cars were virtually the only ones in the parking lot when we started, so the guy at the desk (who took the photo below) said we could play as five threesomes, three fivesomes, two seven-and-a-halfsomes, whatever. We played as three fivesomes.
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The festive cardboard glasses that everyone’s wearing in the photo above were a seasonally appropriate gift from Chic, who is the chairman of our golf club:

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The ground was so hard that getting tees into it was a problem. Shouldn’t there be a power tool for this?

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We always award two extra handicap strokes to anyone who wears shorts after December 1. Only Fritz did on New Year’s—a seemingly reckless decision, but a profitable one, because his team won:

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Fritz said later that only has face had been cold. If I’d worn shorts, I’d have gotten a handicap stroke on the Money Hole, so dressing rationally cost me ten bucks. I don’t regret that, though, because I was comfortable for the entire round. After many years of playing golf in bad weather, I’ve figured out what I need to wear to stay warm. As always, I dressed in layers, so that I could take stuff off if I got hot and put it back on if I got cold again—although on New Year’s I didn’t take anything off until we were finished.

I wore three long-sleeve shirts, the first of which was very thin and two of which were turtlenecks. All three were made of synthetic stuff. Here’s the one I wore on top, by Under Armour:

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On top of that, I wore my brand-new Sun Mountain Tour Series Rain Jacket, which I love. There was no rain in the forecast, but rainsuits are good for wind, too, and we had plenty of that: 20 miles per hour all day:

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My Sun Mountain rain jacket reminds me of my Galvin Green rain jacket, which I also love, but the Sun Mountain jacket sells for less than half as much. One of its best features is that it’s extra long, so that it can’t ride up, We’ve had a fair amount of rain so far this winter, in addition to the other stuff, and I’ve happily worn the jacket many times. I like everything about it:

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On top of the rain jacket, I wore a Uniqlo Ultra Light down vest. Wearing a down vest over three shirts and a jacket made me look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but the vest really is ultra light, and because it doesn’t have sleeves it doesn’t get in the way of a golf swing. I keep it in a Ziploc bag in my golf bag all winter, for emergencies. It squishes down to such a tiny package that last year I forgot to take it out when the weather got warm again:

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I own long johns in three different “weights.” On New Year’s Day, I wore the mediums. They aren’t really long johns; they’re actually running pants, or something, for men who don’t mind being seen in public in tights. They work like long johns, though:

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On top of those, I wore rain pants. One of the keys to successful rain-pants-wearing, I think, is to wear them as pants—over bare legs if it’s warm, over long johns if it’s not. Another key: suspenders. Wearing suspenders with rain pants keeps the pants from sliding down when you stuff a gloved hand into your pocket to retrieve a tee or a ball marker. In fact, rain pants should have built-in straps. My suspenders have plastic grippers, which I think are gentler on expensive waterproof fabric than metal grippers are. They also supposedly won’t set off airport security equipment, should you choose to adopt a totally suspenders-based lifestyle:

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On my neck and part of my head, I wore a Gore-Tex Buff, which may be my single favorite cold-weather accessory. A Buff is a tube of fabric. You can wear it in a million different ways, and if you get really cold you can pull it up (or down) over your face. The guy who invented it got the idea after wearing a pair of underpants on his head to keep his ears from freezing while he rode his motorcycle:

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On top of my head I wore a regular golf cap, and on top of that I wore a bright orange knit cap from Cabela’s, which sells stuff to hunters:

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On my feet, I wore two pairs of wool socks, one of which was pretty thick. The kind I like best are made by SmartWool. The great thing about wool, whether it’s smart or not, is that it keeps you warm even if it gets wet:

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I had room for both pairs of socks because I was also wearing my super-comfortable True Linkswear Chukka golf shoes — a style the company seems to have dropped, I’m sorry to say. (True Gent Chukkas, which the company does sell, are not the same.) I now own eight or ten pairs of True golf shoes. I love them all, and the Chukkas are among my favorites, except when I’m wearing shorts:

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On my hands I wore two pairs of golf gloves: a pair of FootJoy Rain Grips, which are thin, and, on top of those, my favorite winter golf gloves ever, HJ Winter Xtremes.

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You might think that wearing two pairs of gloves would reduce your so-called “touch,” especially on the greens, but if it does anything it probably has the opposite effect. Debbie Crews, who is the sports-psychology consultant for the women’s golf team at Arizona State University and the chair of the World Scientific Conference of Golf, sometimes tells golfers with the yips to try putting (in her lab) with ski gloves on. They usually putt so much better that it’s amazing,” she told me, “because they can’t manipulate.” I wrote about Crews and her research last year, in an article about the yips for The New Yorker. You can read it here.

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Afterwards, lunch, of course.

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