Musings On Autumn Golf

Gull Lake West-9637

I’ve said before on this blog that there is no better time and place for golf than autumn in Michigan. The air is cool, the courses generally in good shape and the sights can be absolutely stunning.

My most recent round, at Gull Lake West in Augusta, Michigan, was pretty typical of the season. I teed off at 10:00 am in 40 degree temperatures, with a steady wind. It was cold enough that I put my rain pants over my lightweight golf trousers, pulled on a fleece sweatshirt and sported a pair of earmuffs with my wool twill flat/ivy cap. I wore a pair of gloves between shots (I play barehanded, for the most part).

By the third hole, I put the the earmuffs away. By the sixth, the rain pants were in the bag. By the ninth, I was in shirt sleeves, sans gloves, as the temperature was in the upper 50s. That probably doesn’t seem warm to sunbelt readers, but while walking in bright sunshine, it’s plenty.

Michigan’s autumn golf landscapes can be stunning. On bright day on a woodland course, the reds and golds contrast sharply with the blues of the sky. Photos can’t do it justice.

All of that color has a “dark” side, though: the leaves on the ground. No matter how much time the grounds keepers spend with their vacuum tractors, there still are more. Balls often are nowhere to be found—even after landing in plain sight in the middle of a fairway.

There should be a special rule for autumn golf: If a ball that hits a fairway can’t be found, you get a free drop.

Aside from the leaves, autumn course conditions are usually terrific.  I spoke with a superintendent last week who said that on his course they spend just as much—if not more—time and money on course maintenance in the fall as in the spring and summer. He said that when combined with the lack of summer heat stress and reduced play, conditions are better in the fall than at any time during the year.

Courses will aerate the fairways and greens at different points during the fall, but the annoyance usually doesn’t last more than a couple of days. I just call ahead to see if that’s going to be a problem. If my first choice is under aeration, I get a tee time with another. There are, after all, more than 800 public courses in Michigan.

Getting a tee time is never a problem in the fall. There just aren’t nearly as many people playing. Indeed, I have sometimes played an entire round while only catching distant glimpses of others on the course. The leagues are all finished and the warm weather golfers have hung up their cleats. Cool weather, I suppose, scares them off. They don’t know what they’re missing.

For my part, I will play golf until the snow flies. Cold doesn’t bother me. As with the old Boy Scout dictum: There is no such thing as bad weather—just bad clothing choices. The new high-tech clothing is so warm and yet so light that I can play in comfort even when temperatures drop into the forties and upper thirties.

Greens fees fall drastically after Labor Day in Michigan. In the last several weeks, I’ve played a couple of top-notch courses for $20 a round—less than half the peak season price. That actually irked the superintendent I spoke with. He argued that since he spends just as much on maintenance, the course shouldn’t lower their rates. He admitted, though, that they had to do so to compete. There are, after all, fewer golfers to go around.

A few words of advice on autumn golf in Michigan:

  • Take plenty of cheap balls. You’re going to lose more than your usual allotment.

  • Plan on rapidly changing temperatures. Dress in layers and make sure you keep a stocking cap, gloves and earmuffs handy.

  • Before you make a tee time, ask about course conditions, particularly aeration.

  • Check on frost warnings. If there’s potential for a freeze, don’t schedule an early tee time, as that will often delay a course’s opening.

    And above all, enjoy it. It’s the best time of the year to play, but winter is coming …

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