When you're in the doldrums of wintertime living in the north, it's pretty easy to grow jealous of your southern-based comrades.
Those in the south are in short sleeves on green grass while you're shoveling snow and lamenting the latest heating bill.
I'm Midwestern-born and vividly remember my first trip south when I was 8 years old: a Christmas morning sprint on icy roads to a Detroit Metro Airport full of frenzied passengers and terminal pandemonium. Hours later I was feeling balmy winter breezes and gazing up at palm trees. Orlando was a magical place indeed.
People actually live like this?
I've lived in various parts of the south since college from Florida to South Carolina to Texas and even at sea for awhile (ask me later). I've decided that the allure of year-round golf may be strong, but it's better to be a golfer living in the north.
There is little rhythm in the southern golf calendar. When it's perfect spring or fall weather, course conditions are usually in transition. In the winter time, sure, you can play more than up north. But cold fronts are bound to interrupt regular games. The worst is in October when, usually right as the heat finally breaks, courses overseed their greens. Perfect temperatures paired with wet and shaggy putting surfaces. It's torture.
The other thing that drives me mad about golf down south is that when the days are longest in the summer, it's uncomfortably hot. For someone with major summer nostalgia for regularly walking 18 holes AFTER dinner in Michigan, it's just not as fulfilling when you're on the course at twilight and still sweating.
By comparison, golf season was so natural and effortless in the Midwest. The snow melted, you'd put away your ice skates and dust off your golf bag. Your game would be in shambles for the first month as the courses dried out. Then school would get out for summer, the days were long and you'd play all the time in various junior tournaments. At the end of summer there was the three-day city junior tournament - a big deal covered by the local press - which teed up the high school golf tryouts and the fall season, where hopefully your scores would peak. By the end of the year, during Regionals and hopefully States, the leaves were an annoyance all over the course and the temperature and daylight waned. Thin iron shots in frigid temps shocked your whole body. By the time of your last putt of the year you were ready to not look at clubs for awhile and take out some pent up aggression back on the ice.
Speaking of competition, I've found it's a lot harder to find the weekday, after-work golf leagues in the south. They are a staple in the Midwest. I can't think of anything that is more gloriously "Detroit" than a mom and dad who have a Tuesday bowling league in the winter replaced with a 9-hole golf league in the summer.
Before you think golfers in the south play a lot more than in the north, consider the National Golf Foundation's 2019 participation report. The West Central and East Central regions of the U.S. had the highest participatory rate. And West-Central golfers average the most rounds per year - more than even the coveted South-Atlantic region home to golf meccas Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
I suspect this has as much to do with seasonality as it does affordability. You can get a pretty decent round of golf around many cities in the Midwest for $20-40. It seems a little easier to maintain a northern, bent-grass course on a tight budget than deal with various growth, diseases and year-round wear-and-tear in the south. Only the highest-end southern courses in prime time have bermuda or zoysia turf and maintenance standards that are as optimal as northern bent grass greens in the summer (those Texas or Carolinas courses that try to pull off bent greens have to work minor miracles to keep them alive).
And don't discount the baked-in cost of a golf cart. Walking golf courses is more comfortable and natural to northern courses than the south. Developing for retirees and snowbirds seems to have led to more cart-first routings through neighborhoods.
I was curious when my own, southern-based "peak season" was in 2019. To find out, I charted all of the 2019 rounds I saved in either The Grint or my Garmin Golf apps. I used "date played" and score to par in this chart.
I played the most golf in May, then slowed down a bit in the grueling summer heat, then picked it back up in September-October. My scores were better in October and I had fewer rounds in the 90's. My personal "off-season" was a loose combination of August and the back half of December and early January. Southern golfers lack the sensational excitement of a year's first round after months of hibernation. We take the assumption of year-round play for granted.
So, northern golfers, this January you may be watching golf on TV in Hawaii and California. Your hands' blisters are from shoveling snow and not grinding on the range. But trust there is a golfer down here in Texas, currently looking at his green-grass front lawn on a 60-degree day who thinks you've got it pretty, pretty good.
Is it better to be a golfer who lives in the north or south? Let us know in the comments below!