It is a fleeting season, as most of them are in truth, but the joy that spring brings is as intense to northern golfers as the first snows are ominous. The long, dark days are done, or should be, and the advent of May will find the first tentative steps at a golfing season.
The northern golfer checks social media, if he knows how, or makes a phone call to the pro shop to learn of opening dates. Yes, the course will be open, he is told, but for walking only, no carts yet, and there are dampish areas, perhaps even a long-dying snow mound in the northern lee of some putting green.
Thus, in anticipation, the clubs are cleaned, yet again; the bag is checked and re-stocked with balls, tees, a clean towel or two and, to be safe, light gloves and a warm pull-down winter hat. Shoes are re-worked with water repellant, which never seems to work. And the weather forecasts are re-examined, the latest bars and graphs scrutinized for the vaunted signals that will prod the superintendent to issue the siren all-clear.
I went out lately to test the ground at the local muni, a favored spot for hickory golfers in the area. It is not long, a friendly test of driver, iron, lofter, and putter. The grass was yet dull and mottled, the strong summer sun yet weeks away, but green it was and grass that you could see and feel and admire… and nudge for the first awkward divots, more like duffs, really. The spring game is a rusty one, as dull as the mottled grass, unsteady but undaunted, progressing in fits and starts toward a summer’s green of strength and confidence.
Skies were blue and the air was crisp and I, I was the only one on the course this day. I practiced with a curious ease, dropping extra balls if so I chose. Playing from sand, fairway, and rough, it did not matter. Swinging the club was all. Watching the ball soar away, for the first time in months, was all. Yes, the ball, on occasion, did soar away.
It is a curious thing to play golf in the singular. Freed from the care and duty of etiquette and rules, one may practice all manner of shots without fear of delaying another’s game. And yes, in the early going, it is also a splendid thing while alone to uncork a disastrous and ugly swing in the certainty that no eyes but our own were witness to the crime.
The greens were fuzzy, the mower and roller still in the super’s care. They, too, were getting their spring shakedown tune-ups. I felt like those fuzzy greens might have been something akin to those of the early hickory golf days and so enjoyed the various rolls and rubs. Wonders! Even an attempt at a cut-putt worked, the ball curving so slightly, held, no doubt, by the extra nap of those still-awakening blades.
On the hill top tee of the long par 3 sixth – long for hickories – one can enjoy a thoughtful vista of the course. Back here, the train tracks travel along the northern and eastern boundary of the course and the occasional freight train lumbers by, its booming diesel belaboring the delicate golfer with its ponderous passage. The par 3 descends about 60 feet to a green 190 yards away with sizable sand bunkers both left and right. There is a generous opening, though, and the well-struck three-iron will find a way.
A friend has been out too, on his course to the west of town. While I confessed to two turns of nine holes, he admitted, with no shame, to seven! Truly, a northern golfer here who chafed under winter’s cold, cruel administration and took club to course before the final green had thawed. He left his employer early on a few of those days, and went out with his son, who is also learning the hickory game.
Spring golf may be welcome in all climes, but I think the northern golfer may be allowed an edge in the thrill he feels when the world again shows promise of life after so long in frozen slumber. Nay, not even slumber, but cruel imprisonment. The delicious feeling of movement in the warming air, of walking again the great green fairways with son at one’s side and with the sun overhead; here is a giddy mixture of pleasure, hope, and sheer enjoyment.
I may, then, in some way feel unashamed to relate that on the finishing hole of my second round, a birdie was gathered in as true a fashion as may be – lovely drive, strong second, and a putt that found the cup.
Tis golf again in the far north. Let the season commence!