‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ said no golfer ever!

Bernie McGuire
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‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ said no golfer ever!

‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know’, sang no golfer ever, unless they were a dubious single figure handicapper in denial about their “love” of the game whilst dreading showcasing their “skills” at the end of year office scramble.

What’s the most wonderful time of the year for many is an utter curse to those who have sold their souls to the fairways. Many fanatics wait for famed Donegal postman, Michael Gallagher, to deliver his forecast before admitting defeat – ‘A stray fox pirouetting though a field outside Kilkenny, a telling omen for a frosty Winter’ – not what we wanted to hear Mick.

Yet growing up on an island that feels like it’s situated .2 miles from the North Pole, frozen greens and club closures are par for the course at this time of year. The arctic conditions that accompany silly season will test the most avid golfer’s resolve. Rugged up more akin to Tom Crean than Tom Kite, those who’d rather die of hypothermia than let their clubs rot in the shed brave the elements with optimistic adjectives like ‘grand’ and ‘fresh’ to fight them.

These people are one of two things – dedicated to the cause as they look to get a leg up on the opposition ahead of the Captain’s Drive, or troubled, home-life so disjointed that a shimmering fairway void of life is a more welcoming alternative. Of course there’s other demons at play. Wily swingers who have protected their handicaps all year ’round crawl out of the woodwork for the Winter Leagues. Seamus O’Bandito, having not managed to break the 30 point barrier during the regular season, suddenly bursts through the buffer with 37, over just 11 holes! Salivating the whole way ‘round to pick up his fourth Christmas Ham in a fortnight no doubt.

However, for anyone deathly serious about their golf (and there are a few of us), Winter is the ideal opportunity to fine tune your game. Course conditions force lift, clean and place rules nationwide, meaning club competitions have no bearing on handicaps. With nothing to lose, never does our game offer a greater window to experiment. Block lessons can be bought on the cheap from teaching pros with frostbitten fingers waiting patiently in their driving range bays for the students of swing to arrive. It’s the lay man’s off-season, our chance to banish the costly slice or that debilitating hook that plagued us all year in time for Spring’s new beginnings.

This being the season of good will, it’s also our chance to give back to those less fortunate in the art of golf. With reduced timesheet demands, focus can shift to fledgling hackers, promoting efficient play and basic ethics. What’s obvious to some is often alien to others, but rather than wait ’til you’re stuck behind them in April to let rip in despair, why not educate beginner golfers now with helpful tips of ready golf, course management, appropriate pre-shot routines and more, sure to only benefit the collective in reducing round times and tempers come high-season.

That’s not to say we can’t all learn a thing or two over the next few weeks either. For years I stood atop the coldest peak in Ireland – the first tee of the O’Meara course at Carton House, bemused at the lengths golfers would go to severely handicap themselves before ever hitting a ball. Like a jet-setter deciding to wear all their clothes to the airport rather than pack them in a suitcase, they’d waddle to me, the perished starter, with grand ambitions scuppered by the difficulty of bending down to stick their peg in the ground. Treat yourself to some Under Armour, promoting both flexibility and warmth – I get 5% off every purchase, but it’s going to a good cause – my Winter golfing trip to Turkey!

Oh, and clean your clubs you filthy animals! No use picking up your ball to relieve its dimples of that earthly crust if you’re carrying half of Bally Muck on your club-face. The technology that inspired your grooves didn’t account for an ecosystem to be plastered upon them.

And last but not least, carry your clubs if at all capable. Think of your golf bag at this time of year like a soldier would his backpack circa 1943 in Germany. Carry only what you need, buy a pencil bag – not only will you be burning off those Christmas calories but you’ll be able to avail of shortcuts that electric trolleys prohibit. A quick game’s a good game, but it’s also the only game to play in Winter.

If none of that takes your fancy, I urge you to at least grab your putter in order to maintain that velvet touch of yours across the carpet floor. Winter golf isn’t for everyone, but in little old Ireland, what choice do we have? We could pretend we hit a few I suppose. Cosy up to the fire with a hot whiskey in hand and play the 19th on repeat until you’ve got it mastered – but honestly, where’s the fun in that?

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