It might be surprising, in view of the snow on the ground and the temperatures that are far from balmy, but this is the time of year when my golf game is at its best.
Not that I am actually playing, mind you, but in my dreams I am having the best season ever. Winter golf for me is played in my head, not on the course.
There are never any mosquitoes, and there is no waiting at the first tee.
In an odd sort of way, that is one of the benefits of living in Minnesota.
Golfers in some climates can get in a round anytime they want.
In Minnesota, it is a fleeting season, usually beginning with a cold, damp spring and capped by blustery, crisp fall days when one has to hunt for one’s ball under fallen leaves.
There aren’t all that many fine days for golfing in Minnesota, and that is part of what makes it so special.
Unlike our counterparts in more temperate climates, we have the luxury of the winter months to dream about golf.
In my dreams, I always play better than I do on the actual course, and I can perpetuate these dreams because I don’t have any score cards to prove them wrong.
On a dreary late winter (or early spring) day, it is easy to relive the occasional good shot, and forget the hundreds of bad ones.
In dream golf, my drives are always straighter and travel farther than they do on the course.
What’s more, in my dreams, I always make it over the water hazard on the third hole at Pokegama the first time. I rarely do that in real life without donating at least one ball to the water gods.
There is a sort of eternal optimism attached to golf in the off-season.
One can visualize how things will be in the season ahead, and perhaps come up with a plan to cure that slice that crept back into one’s drive late last season.
During the winter, I think about the things that I will do to improve my game.
Maybe I will take some lessons. Some sage advice from a sharp-eyed pro might be all I need to get to the next level.
Perhaps I will block out a regular time to work out on the driving range each week to improve my consistency.
Maybe what I really need is that new super putter I read about in the magazine.
On the other hand, perhaps that new hybrid club that they were talking about on the TV would do the trick.
Like many other dedicated duffers, I am convinced that if I just had better clubs, it would make all the difference.
Some new golf balls might not hurt, either.
I am willing to consider anything that might shave a few strokes off my game.
Maybe this will be the year I break 120 . . .
The golf bug comes on strong this time of the year.
I begin to salivate as I gaze at those gorgeous greens on which the pros are playing each week.
I find myself performing putting drills on the bedroom carpet and practicing chip shots into a wastebasket in the lounge.
If the odd errant shot fails to find its target and takes out some of the decorations on the wall instead, I remember that a few knickknacks are of no consequence compared to finally scoring better than double bogey on the long par five.
We all have to make sacrifices if we want to improve.
Winter is starting to lose its icy grip on the land, and it won’t be long before greenskeepers are hard at work preparing courses for the spring rush.
I have cleaned up the sticks and checked the spikes on my golf shoes to be ready for action as soon as the courses open.
We still have a wait ahead of us, though.
Until then, I will pass the time by haunting golf shops, checking out the new equipment that might just give me the edge I have been looking for.
I will re-read my collection of golf instruction manuals, hoping to find some kernel of knowledge I might have missed.
And, I will continue to dream about the possibilities.
Golf is not so much an end as it is a journey.
Few will ever find perfection in this great pastime. Golfers at my level have all they can do to find the green.
There is satisfaction, though, in the small victories. All it takes is one good shot to keep us coming back.
Perhaps it is one solid drive, the kind that catches the pellet squarely on the equator, crushing the core and sending it rocketing down the fairway, still accelerating as it disappears into the distance.
Maybe it is a long putt that makes a six-foot break before disappearing into the cup with a satisfying clatter.
The happy memory of shots like these is enough to keep us warm throughout the long Minnesota winter.
Golf is not just about lowering one’s score. It is about the camaraderie of the course, spending time with good people in some of the most beautiful places on earth, and about walking the fine line between soaring ecstasy and abject frustration.
Golf is a happy addiction that, for some of us, no matter what our handicap, will always be the stuff of dreams.