It’s late into November and it looks like the last warm days may have finally left us here in southwest Virginia. In fact, it’s spitting snow this morning as I write this. The beginning of the winter season is always a shock to the system. It takes a while for aging blood to adapt to the inevitable. So it is always tempting to stay inside and watch golf rather than play it. But soon the cold becomes more familiar and the empty fairways beckon.
We all have friends who are “fair weather” golfers. If the wind is up or a light drizzle is falling or the temperature drops below some threshold, you can predict that they won’t show up for the weekly match. I am fortunate in that most of my friends don’t mind the cold and though our course is usually under snow for a few weeks out of the year, there are usually plenty of opportunities to get out throughout the winter.
In many ways winter is my favorite time to play. Mid-summer is too hot and sometimes too crowded. The fall is spectacular, but the course is often full of people, especially when nearby Virginia Tech is having a home football game. Spring is great but soggy. In the winter, however, many people hang up their clubs and leave the course to the rest of us. A perfect winter day for me is partly cloudy with a light breeze and temperatures in the mid forties. The New River is in sight from everywhere on the course and when the mist is hanging in pockets over the water, you feel like you have walked into a landscape painting. Across the river is a railway where Norfolk and Southern freight trains come through several times a day, their melancholy whistles echoing off the rocky hillside above the tracks.
Golf is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pastime. That is why it is meant to be played on foot and not in motorized carts. My course is easily walkable, but because green fees are included in its cost to visitors, members are usually the only ones who walk. As we all know who have tried it, riding in buggies on a cold day is not a happy experience. But with a few layers of clothing, some winter gloves and a warm hat, one is very comfortable after walking three holes, even with a wind. A good round always feels even better in the winter, because you have conquered the elements as well as the course. Best of all, winter is the perfect time for an afternoon round on an empty course. If you are playing well, the quiet and the concentration needed to hit proper shots may put you into that mysterious and wonderful “zone” that so many of us have experienced where for a time a difficult game seems almost effortless. Even when that doesn’t happen, a winter round encourages a contemplative attitude and a quiet mind that allows participation in the metaxy, that in-between state of consciousness that grounds us between time and eternity, earth and heaven and nourishes the soul through the truths made luminous by this intense experience of the human condition.
So I try not to be led off course by the siren song of Florida sunshine. With apologies to Keats, winter hast thy music too and it can be quite beautiful if you listen.