Don’t sit on the sidelines — this is a great time to play

I spent the weekend in Illinois, where the golf courses are still very green. They look beautiful.

Every time I passed one, I maintained my tradition.

“Golf course!” I would proclaim.

But my words were hollow.

No one was enjoying them – and probably won’t be until April, at the earliest.

And it got me thinking: Do we know how good we have it out on the West Coast? Do we truly understand?

Despite the weather, golf is insanely popular in Illinois. It has some great courses, particularly in the Chicago area. The level of devotion to our great game might be even stronger than it is out west.

But that’s because they get fewer opportunities to play it.

Just two days before I arrived, my cousin had played. But instead of being happy about it, he was kind of sad.

“Last round of the year, no doubt,” he said.

Indeed, it has snowed twice already. More was coming in a few days. And the temperatures were hovering around 30 or 40 – not too cold to play, necessarily, but certainly not comfortable.

I passed course after course that appeared to be in really good shape. They were still green and mowed. No matter. They were closed. Not many courses stay open after October. Even if there’s a freakishly warm day, they’re not going to let anyone out there.

I drove to central Illinois and, while I was there, decided to see what was happening at the course I used to play regularly.

This time, there were people out there – hallelujah! – but they were bundled up for a game that seemed very different. Stocking caps, not golf hats, were the headgear of choice. Two gloves, not one, were a good idea.

They, too, might have been getting in their last round of the year even though they’re 130 miles south of Chicago. It was nearly sunset as I watched a group march to the 18th green. I wondered how many of them would be taking the next five months off.

Five months! Think about that. Even if you’re the hardy type who can handle the cold, that’s how long you’re going to be sidelined in that state. Even if the courses do reopen in April, it often is too chilly, too wet or even too snowy to play. It might even be a six-month wait.

Look at what we have, by comparison.

Sure, there might be a few no-go days in the winter. There will be some rain. The courses might be too wet to play at times.

But I’ve never heard of a West Coast course – one in the warmer areas, closer to the ocean – that shuts down for the winter. For many, it’s a prime income-earning time. A lot of people consider 60 or 65 degrees the perfect temperature for a round of golf.

And yet I’ve known plenty of West Coast golfers who wouldn’t even consider playing from November to February. Their No. 1 complaint is that it’s too wet, to which I say, “Define wet.”

To me, too wet means the fairways and greens are under water. Anything less than that is playable – and anything less than that probably means the course is open.

Now there IS an upside to this attitude that I consider all wet: It means the courses might not be crowded.

So what are you waiting for? You aren’t really waiting for March or April, are you? You’re in one of the greatest golf regions in the world!

Playing golf regularly is part of our daily lives in the summer months, so why should that change now? We’ve got a choice. The people back in the Midwest and Northeast don’t.

In a few weeks, I’m scheduled to go on a trip through California. It will be a long drive, best split into two days. My first thought as I planned the trip: I could stop somewhere and play golf!

It’s my way of celebrating my freedom of choice. What’s yours?

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