Golfing in the snow cures Clevelanders' cabin fever

By Jason Stahl, Contributor

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Unlike peanut butter and jelly, snow and golf are two things that should never go together. But when they do, a clear distinction has to be made between two parties of golfers: those who purposely choose to freeze their Titleists off in sub-zero temperatures because they believe real golf is meant to be played with snowshoes on, and those who would not otherwise choose to play in cold temperatures but, because of their geographic location, are forced to do so in order to pursue golf as a year-round avocation.

The "CAT scan crowd" will not play unless there is several feet of snow on the ground and morbidly crave the numbing sensation of hitting what feels like a frozen chunk of ice. The other people merely love the game enough to venture out for the occasional round on a mild winter day.

Clevelanders are among those type of people, and those are the type Ed Mack is used to. Mack is the general manager of Sweetbriar Golf Club in Avon, Ohio, a course that's open for play year-round - that is, if the conditions aren't too bad.

"As long as there's no snow on the ground, we try to have at least nine holes open," Mack says.

Mack says he personally subscribes to the "50-degree rule": "If it's under 50 degrees, I don't play." But there are plenty of people who are willing to brave less hospitable environmental conditions, and they're not necessarily in need of psychoanalysis. In Sweetbriar's case, most of the "snow golfers" are East Siders - people from the East Side of Cleveland known as the city's snowbelt, an area that typically receives a ton more snow than the West Side. They don't want to get buried by an avalache while lining up a 10-foot putt, but they're willing to put up with a few snow flakes and a stiff breeze if it means keeping the rust off their swings.

"They get pummeled while we only get a dusting," Mack says. "So they call us to see what our conditions are like and whether we're open or not. This year, we've been telling them, 'Hey, we haven't seen the grass in three months.'"

These golfers aren't Charles Manson wannabes just because they'll play in weather cold enough to freeze their handicaps. According to Mack, most are just regulars trying to shake off cabin fever.

"We get a lot of local regulars who live down the street and just want to play and don't care what they score," he says. "They just want to get out of the house, drink a few beers, have a hot dog, and watch football."

Still others are in it for the exercise, or are sick and tired of hitting balls off of plastic mats. Even the country club set have been known to slum it at a local muny course that keeps its fairways open to snowbirds.

No matter how much snow falls, The Links Golf Course in Olmsted Falls, Ohio always welcomes golfers with open arms. In fact, they proudly advertise that they're open year-round in the Yellow Pages. But with the record-setting snowfall in Cleveland this winter, snow golfers have been as rare a sighting as a 250-yard drive by Tiger Woods - further proof that Clevelanders don't run with the cuckoo crowd.

"The last time I saw golfers this year was Thanksgiving," says Sue Brunt, an assistant at The Links. "There were 12 guys, and mostly they were out because it was a tradition of theirs."

The group of golfers also related to Brunt that they were "sick of being cooped up," which apparently is a strong enough motivating force to make Clevelanders overlook the possibilities of frostbite and/or hypothermia. And not just Clevelanders - a man from Pittsburgh recently called Brunt to see if her course was open.

If you're interested in becoming a member of the "CAT scan crowd," it might help to check out the Official Tundra Golf Association Web Site at These fellas evidently didn't freeze enough of their brain cells off to impair their ability to come up with a creative list of guidelines for snow golfers who come across hazards that only pop up in winter:

Sledders in the fairway: If a player's ball is interfered with by the head or body of a sledder, the player is allowed a drop where the ball would have landed or a free shot from the ball's original position.

Cross country skiers/tracks: Should a skier interfere with a player's backswing, the player is allowed to hit again without penalty. Cross country ski and snowmobile tracks may be treated as you treat cart paths during the summer-free swing and stance relief.

Freezing on the green: This hazard is common among players who take too much time lining up their putts and is another good reason to avoid slow play, and can sometimes result in a penalty (see Hypothermia)

Snowmobiles: While their tracks provide a great lie, snowmobiles themselves pose a great danger, as many drivers may not even see you as they scout the horizon for cross country skiers to run over.

Irate greenskeepers: Unenlightened greenskeepers may not recognize the assets of tundra golf, under the misconception that play during winter months may damage a course. The truth is, the frozen ground actually protects turf from divotting. However, should an angry groundsperson disrupt your round, play may be continued at a later date from the last hole finished with no penalty to any players.

Jason StahlJason Stahl, Contributor

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

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