It had been a month. Three snowfalls and 17 days straight below freezing in southwestern Ohio. Wind chills of minus-15 sprinkled here and there. The day before, it nudged toward the upper 30s. Today, low 40s, but that 4-inch blanket would take time to melt. My front yard was mostly green due to a southern exposure, but the back was a solid, crusty white. So when I got a text from G saying it was starting to feel “golfy,” I thought, Yeah, in Hawaii. Of course, I was feeling golfy, too, as were our three other shut-in buddies. House-bound, bored, itchin’.
A day later, wide swaths of white still checkered my backyard. Temperatures were predicted to be near 50, with rain late in the day. A missed voicemail from G: “Bump, looks like we can get out tomorrow. What d’ya say?” I’d say staring at your four walls is making you delusionary. Maybe a few days from now. Maybe after a good wind dries out the rain predicted on top of this snow melt. Maybe the end of the week. I call back anyway. “Let me know if you find a course open, but I don’t see it.” He’s optimistic, though, so I say I’ll play, but don’t hold your breath.
The next morning, he’s right. The overnight temps never dipped below freezing. The patches of white outside my back window had shrunken to splotches, but it’d still be sopping. Who’d open in this? We make calls anyway. The Mill says walking only. Greencrest and Indian Ridge don’t even answer the phone, but at Pleasant Hill, a voice: “Yeah, we’re open, but it’s strictly path. There’s still snow on the course. It’s winter golf.”
“Do I need a time?” I ask, and he says, “Just come out, but what’re you looking for?” “How about 11:45?” “Nope, that’s taken, but you can have 11:52.” We’re not the only diehards.
Ninety minutes later, we convene at the course. Three other cars share the parking lot. We ask if we can play a fivesome. Duh. I pay the $25 winter fee and grab one of the only two carts out of the barn. I have to depress the choke a couple of extra pushes, but it fires up. Moments later, we’re loaded and on the path. Paths half-covered in ice. Ice floes in the deeper swells, like navigating a ship through glacier melt. Big chunks banging the axles, smacking the wheels. Gunning it so we don’t stall and have to push. Slush as the day wears on.
We play the front tees. All seniors. Super seniors. It’s January. A few of us still can launch it a fair piece. Chance to hit a par 5 in two. Maybe drive a par 4. Just a chance. Play it up everywhere. Chunks of mud speckle every shot. Plugged balls hard to find until you’re right on top of them. Thrilled when tee shots get a bounce. Everything sits down on the green, someone joking we must all be playing Pro V1s. We’re not. I’ve got a Noodle. Long and soft. Doesn’t matter. Target golf today. Right.
Five men, three carts, trying to hit drives close enough to the path so we don’t wear out walking, but we’re not that good. Carrying multiple clubs across the fairway is common – one to cover yardage, one to hit high, one to hit low – hoping we’re not in tree trouble or at least have enough of a window and can find relief from the casual water. But the casual water forms ponds today, so drops can be yards, not feet away, every one of us hitting our share of fat shots, clubfaces slathered in mud. Mike helps Greg with his cart when he makes these cross-country excursions because he’s the odd man out, no partner to move his cart.
“Wonder if the pros’d be playin’ lift, clean and place today?”
“The pros wouldn’t be playin’.”
“They’d deem this unplayable.”
“We’re playin’, ain’t we?”
“Indeed we are.”
Bud nearly holes out from 40 yards – twice – each divot inches from the hole. Tap-ins. The rest of us stroke every putt a little harder, some a lot harder to get them rolling on the soppy greens. Stan knocks in a left-to-right, uphill, 30-footer for birdie. I pure a hybrid just short of the pond on 17, then fat my 9-iron approach and watch it bounce three times on the frozen pond before it shoots just over the retaining timbers and into the rough on the other side, giving me a chance to save par. I do. Mike’s not so lucky when his thinned 7-iron skidders across the ice and bounces off the wall like a souped-up pinball. A muttered epithet. Takes his penalty. Hey, we’re out here, aren’t we? Still manages to get up and down for bogey.
The light gray sky turns dark as we reach 18 and the temperature drops. I wipe dots of mud from my face, spit on my glasses and use the soft inside of my sweatshirt to dry them. Gaze down at the splotches of brown on my khaki pants. My wife’ll kill me.
The ball’s been traveling a club or two less all day, maybe three into the wind. A twosome reaches No. 17 green, one of the only other groups on the course. Good spacing, we think, for a January day in Ohio. I summon one final moment of focus, hit a draw over the corner on the uphill par 5, turn to my buddies and say, “Just lookin’ for a chance.” We all share a sip of scotch and nod.
John Gaughan is a retired English teacher who lives in Fairfield, Ohio, and carries a 10 handicap. He can be reached at email@example.com.