Contemplating Fall Golf

Some golfers stash their clubs in the closet after Labor Day. For those who want more, autumn on Long Island is a wonderful season to roam the course. The game’s challenges are multiplied and magnified by the harsher elements, but golfers embrace an old Scottish saying: If there’s nae wind and nae rain, it’s nae golf. Or, to mix metaphors, smooth seas do not a great skipper make.

“We’re open every nice day but Christmas,” said Cherry Creek Golf Links (Riverhead) head golf pro Eileen McCaffrey. “There are always people who want to play. We have a group that plays every January 1st. The Woods, our course with the most trees, is hard to keep open in fall because the leaves fall so fast our machines can’t keep up. If I’m paying to play golf in autumn, I don’t want to lose my ball in the fairway. Our Links Course is wide open, always ready for play, unless it snows.”

What are the drawbacks? Wind changes everything. Wet grips and cold feet. Backs that ache in mid-summer throb after a round in November. The ball won’t fly as far but it might roll farther. And you sometimes have to move an acorn out of your line on the green.

On the plus side, the grass is greener, the air is fresher and the crowds have turned their attention to football. Rubber-backed teenagers are trapped in school and foursomes of five-putters are clogging some other artery.

“It’s obvious fewer women play golf as it gets colder,” said McCaffrey. “I don’t want to say it’s because women are smarter, but they do know when to come in from the cold. It gets harder to swing freely, the more layers of clothing you add.”

John Updike called golf the game wherein the “walls to the supernatural are rubbed the thinnest.” Fall is the end of the season, of the life-cycle, and makes me think of my father in the waist-high fescue at Westhampton, or hacking his way out of bunkers where he used to neck as a teenager. As my father entered his seventies, his full swing crumbled and his short game was worse. By late autumn one year, he had so confused himself with books, magazines and video lessons he had to face away from the hole and chip backwards. Otherwise he suffered a snap-fade or chili-dip. If I pointed out the error in his alignment, he would insist it was against the rules to offer advice.

“But you’re facing Speonk.”

“Remsenburg. We had a summer house there, blown down in the Hurricane of ’38. Mind your business.”

Speaking of hurricanes, I am muy sympatico with that annual New Years’ Day outing. I have practiced nine-irons in a hurricane and polished my sand game with pinecones from snow. I hate that fall leads to winter, but I cling to another old saying, this one from Maine: “No such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”

john westermann

John Westermann teaches at Stony Brook University in the MFA in Writing and Literature Program. His novel Exit Wounds was a major motion picture starring Steven Seagal.