PGN Feature: Appreciating the Blustery Beauty of Winter Golf
PENN HILLS, Pa. — As winter rounds go, this one was distinctly non-wintry.
For one, I walked onto the first tee at 3 Lakes Golf Course on a recent Friday afternoon wearing shorts. A high in the upper 50s will trigger that normally-insane move on the 11th day of December.
For another, the tee sheet was full enough than an actual starter was needed to sort out the thirsty players dead set on beating the Standard Time dusk.
It just felt wrong to shed the long-sleeve pullover before at least hitting the opening drive, so I kept it on to maintain respect for fickle spirits of winter golf.
By my approach to the first, though, that pullover was in the bag.
The art of playing an offseason round around these parts isn’t terribly complicated.
It mostly revolves around your tolerance for discomfort. Namely, how cold can you get before your enjoyment level drops to the ‘I’d rather be somewhere else’ station?
Other than that, there’s only one real hard-and-fast rule: If there’s no snow, it’s a go.
Oh, and the course in question has to be actually, you know, open.
That second tenet was key to my maiden trip to 3 Lakes the other day. While delivering packages a couple of weeks ago — hello, holiday gig — I found myself driving west on Saltsburg Road, getting a good look at the full length of the par-4 10th in the process.
As I craned my neck to get a quick sense of the full property, the marquee sign fronting the parking lot caught my attention.
IF THE HIGH IS 50 OR ABOVE, PLAY FOR $25.
First of all, that’s a high (weather pun!) standard for opening. At this time of year, I start to contemplate my options on any day that’s in the 30s and free of precipitation.
But, no judgement for the good folks at 3 Lakes. Maybe they’ve determined it’s not worth their time and energy to accommodate the few crazies who’ll come out when it’s, say, 40 and overcast.
When I saw that temps were going to rise to near record highs last Friday, my first thought was 3 Lakes. Formerly known as Alcoma Country Club, it’s been frequently mentioned by Pittsburgh Golf Now readers this year as a place I should check out.
Not that 3 Lakes’ usual daily rate is exorbitant by any means, but I’ll admit that $25 deal was firmly in mind when I scheduled the tee time. My friend and colleague Alan Saunders summed up part of the reason why I treasure winter golf.
Not a specific course, but because I’m playing less overall, I don’t mind spending more than I usually would to play a nicer course that will be better maintained over the winter.
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) December 10, 2020
As someone who’s always on the lookout for cheap golf, the offseason is prime hunting season. And you don’t even have to wear an orange vest or forest camouflage.
There’s another value-added benefit to playing this time of year: A nothing-to-lose mindset.
On top of playing for cheap, the lower expectations most of us harbor in the darker months can be the pathway to finding that freewheeling flow state most of us chase yearround.
South Park for me. Always walk and hit several balls, trying shots that I’d never try during the summer. $6 for 9 or $10 for 18, can’t be beat.
— Tim McAloon (@tjmcaloonsr) December 11, 2020
As Tim hints at, what better time to find that elusive something in your swing than the laboratory setting of a winter round?
Or what better time to give a certain feel or thought a test run on the course? Like, squeezing your glutes during setup to flatten your lower back — just as a random example that I definitely didn’t try on the front nine.
Really, anything goes in the darker months. We’re all alive in the best era ever to test our swings in low temps, too, since cold-weather golf clothes seemingly get lighter and lower-profile every season.
Unless you’re trying to make a retro fashion statement, there’s no reason to wear a bulky sweater or a jacket that flaps in the breeze. The feel of one’s body in compression gear isn’t identical to short sleeves and shorts, but experienced golfers can testify that we’ve come a long way, baby.
Unfortunately, the one natural limitation that technology can’t alleviate (yet!) is lack of daylight. Most of us still have to work, so that leaves precious little time to squeeze in a full round.
But what about nine? I’ve long held that playing nine is underrated — I’m probably biased because I spent my formative years playing nine much more than 18 — and the short hours of winter are made for calling it a day at the turn.
I’m a fan of Rolling Green. So short it’s like the weather doesn’t even touch distances! That, or Frosty Valley for a quick 9.
— Nate Tovornik (@Ntovorni) December 9, 2020
Well, what do you know, Nate? I made a trip to down to Frosty Valley this summer, and Franklin Park’s nine-holer Clover Hill is a favorite when time is tight any month of the year.
Even in December or January, teeing off as late as 3 p.m. is still doable at most nine-hole tracks. Ever notice how breathtaking winter sunsets can be? See the photo above for a taste, or just get out there yourself. Just bring a sweater.
By the way, a cool air current emanating from one of those 3 Lakes encouraged me to don the pullover for the walk up the par-5 18th. Hey, I brought it, so I might as wear it for one hole.
Our threesome knew how good we had it, though.
As my brother and his friend putted out in the lengthening shadow of the clubhouse, I stepped back to take in the whole scene. Playing 18 holes in thoroughly comfortable temps around here is a luxury normally restricted to just a small sliver of the calendar.
Of course, that’s not normally what winter golf north of the Mason-Dixon Line is all about. That 50-degree baseline at 3 Lakes belies the reality that a hardy Michigander blasted to our Twitter account.
50 degrees only!? Glad to know some places here are no frost, no snow, go play. Bundle up!
— Jeremy Fallis (@JeremyFallis3) December 11, 2020
Sounds like we just got called out. See you out there … when the snow melts, of course.
Thank you for visiting Pittsburgh Golf Now during our inaugural year! Looking forward to more exploration of the area scene in 2021.
As always, we’re open to suggestions, feedback and business opportunities. Reach us at @pghgolfnow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.