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When Winter is Golf Season: Bust out the long johns and toss out the rules 

A round of golf with the lovely La Nina.

click to enlarge outdoors_golfing.jpg
While snow lovers have cursed La Nina for her fickle ways and meager offerings this year, many hikers, bikers, joggers are checking the forecast each week to see how many more days of running and riding they can fit in. If you've been hibernating since November, here's how warm it is. I saw a couple playing tennis in shorts in mid-December, a time of year more associated with scarves and socks than shirt sleeves and tube socks.

Say what you will about global warming, but there's something undeniably pleasant about tossing aside your jacket in January. I'm not advocating more carbon emissions or a global monster truck rally, just pointing out that when Old Man Winter throws a change-up pitch, you should take the opportunity to drive it to left field.

In my case, I interpreted a favorable forecast (read 50 degrees and sunny) for this past Sunday as an invitation to dust off my golf clubs (okay, they're weren't actually dusty - I played on Christmas Eve). It's not unusual for me to play a few rounds around the edges of the season, scratching the itch in late fall and early spring. But I typically, pack the clubs away around Thanksgiving and allow them to hibernate until sometime around late March. This year is an exception. I played two rounds in late December, including the aforementioned Christmas Eve round.

Evidently, I'm not the only person with birdies and bogeys on the brain. When I arrived at River's Edge midday on Sunday, I was greeted by a parking lot full of cars as well as jacketed and pants-clad golfers shuttling back and forth from the clubhouse.

One of my would-be playing partners attempted to check in and learned that it would be an hour and a half wait to tee off. A good lesson: when it's 50 degrees, snow free and sunny in January - make a tee time.

While there are relatively fewer players during winter, there are also fewer golf courses open, meaning most of the play gets concentrated around a few courses. There are also fewer hours in the day, further constricting the number of tee times. The situation exacerbated by frost delays. Although delay is probably the wrong word since frost is an inherent part of the operation in winter. Regardless, most courses don't start sending players off until about 11 a.m. at this time of year.

The unseasonably warm weather has been a boon of sorts for golf courses as well as golfers.

When I asked Juniper Golf Head Pro Bruce Wattenburger how this winter has stacked up to previous years, he quipped, "We've had no winter."

According to Wattenburger, the Redmond course recorded 900 member rounds in December, roughly triple what it did last year.

Other courses are reporting similar interest from golfers.

"Without a doubt, the folks haven't really put away the golf clubs like they usually do. December for us was fantastic," said Troy Eckberg, director of golf at River's Edge in Bend.

The course, one of the few that opts to run on regular greens through the winter, was closed for only two days in December, compared to roughly two weeks last year.

"It's weird; it's goofy," said Widgi Creek's Dan Ostrin, whose course reopened for play last week and is going on a day-to-day basis based on the weather.

Typically, Widgi closes around Thanksgiving and doesn't open again until March, a season that is dictated largely by the weather.

This year is different - even for one of Central Oregon's highest-elevation (read snowiest) courses. After a small dusting of snow late last week, the course reopened on Tuesday. Last year, Widgi opened for several weeks during a January warm spell, but this year's persistently mild temps and lack of precipitation have amounted to a nearly seamless extension of the season for golfers and golf courses. The only thing that prevented Widgi from opening in December was a lack of staff, many of whom had already scheduled vacations, Ostrin said.

Now that the course is open, it's charging players $19 for all they can play. However, for those who haven't played off-season golf before, it's important to adjust your expectations. Most courses are running on temporary greens. Temps are essentially small portions of the fairways that have been cut to allow for putting, which is typically done into an 8-inch cup that's more a test of strength than skill.

Owing to the cool nights, it's not uncommon for players to encounter frozen tee boxes, which can require some creativity and improvisation for those who want to tee up the ball. (I brought a cordless drill during my last round).On December 24, tee boxes weren't the only frozen elements of the course. The fairways, greens and even water hazards were all frozen solid. That makes for some interesting golf. Tee shots often bounced close to 100 yards down the fairway after landing. Approach shots caromed off cement-like greens. On the 10th hole, I bounced a wayward approach off the center of a frozen pond and ended up less than 15 feet from the pin for what may have been the world's most improbable eagle bid. Later I recovered three balls from a water hazard by sliding across the frozen surface in my golf shoes while my playing partners looked on in disbelief at what they surely though of as: A) my Eskimo like ability to gauge ice density and strength with a glance, or B) my brazen stupidity.

I'm thinking it may have been the latter.

This was all done under the watchful eye of a terrier that we picked up on the 11th hole that tailed us for the remainder of the round watching our many wayward shots with mild, but non-judgmental interest. It's worth noting that I've found such encounters are more common in the "off" season when golfers are much more likely to see joggers, walkers and dogs around the course.

After several encounters, I've begun to think its commonly accepted among the general public that pedestrians are entitled to free reign over the cart paths and fairways after December 1. This year, however, they'll need to yield to what is no longer a rarity in January - an actual golfer hitting a shot. That may vex some golfers, but as far as I'm concerned, there's plenty of dormant grass to go around. Just don't bark in my backswing.

Where to Play

Juniper Golf Course


$20 or $15 after 1 p.m.

11 a.m. shotgun start daily.

Winter season: 7-days per week,
weather dependent

Widgi Creek


$19 all you can play.

Call for start time.

Winter Season: weather dependent

River's Edge Golf Course


$35/18; $23/9

Call for start/tee time

Winter season: 7 days per week
weather dependant.


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