Sunday, January 26, 2003

At least they had the course to themselves


Cocoa never tasted so good to these fools

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[img]
Enquirer sports reporter Ryan Ernst plays a round of winter golf at Hillview Golf Course Thursday.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
I used to think it was tough getting a tee time in the summer. Then I tried to schedule a round of golf on the coldest day of the year.

With the temperature dipping below 10 degrees and the wind chill making it feel sub-zero, I hit the links for the fourth and final week of my winter recreation series.

After calling almost every public golf course in town and getting plenty of answering machines and negative responses, I found Hillview Golf Course in Cleves, and its owners, the Mackes.

Paul Macke, part owner of the family run course and the resident pro, said he'd be happy to have me out. To him, the idea of playing in 3 inches of snow on the coldest day of the year didn't sound all that crazy, which scared me a bit.

Just in case, I decided to bring along my buddy B.J. I figured he'd like it because he's a golf nut and he'd appreciate the challenge. And I wanted him to come for pure comic relief. B's one of the nicest guys I know, but when it comes to golf, he has a fuse shorter than a gimme. He's an avid, and quite accomplished, club thrower, and I figured that could make things interesting.

We arrived and saw the Mackes were all ready to go. Paul and his brother Drew played with us. The carts were equipped with a clear plastic covering and propane space heaters. They obviously had done this before.

And so we drove to the first tee, half golf outing, half Donner Party, all kinds of bad idea.

I tried teeing up the first of two dozen yellow golf balls we had brought for the occasion - in a black Sharpie I had written "Played 1/23/03, 8{ring}F" on it - but the ground was too hard to insert the tee. After sticking the tee into the snow, I hit my first shot.

About 150 yards later it landed in a foot-deep snow drift just right of where I imagined the fairway to be. Ball No. 1: gone.

The others in my group weren't fairing much better, except Paul. Once on the green, the name of the game is chipping, not putting. Anything within a golf club grip of the pin is good. And Paul, a member of the PGA, was hitting the pin left and right. I, on the other hand, was going through balls as though I were at the driving range.

Not counting the first lost ball, I was 2-over after the first hole. Then, around the second or third hole, the cold got me. Scores no longer mattered. The sun went behind the clouds, the wind picked up, and I said goodbye to sensation in most of my extremities.

But we pushed on, despite many challenges. We pushed golf carts when they got caught on inclines. We went up icy embankments and through snowdrifts. It was like a golf scene in the training montage of Rocky IV, if there had been a golf scene. Hillview Golf Course was our Siberia. Everything was a hazard, and yet we continued.

For about five holes.

The group was on 17, I think - we had been skipping holes and playing only the ones we thought the carts could make it through - when we spotted the clubhouse. Like a huge, steaming cup of hot chocolate on the horizon, it was our salvation. Then and there we decided to call it a day, take whatever digits the doctors could save or reattach, and head home.

About that time, my second shot headed for water by the green. I lost sight of the ball, but I was immediately excited for a chance to chip on from the middle of the frozen lake. But the ball, like my curiosity about playing golf in the snow, was gone.

Still, come July I'll be out on the course, complaining about the heat and hitting ball after ball into a defrosted lake. And I'll hope for a cold front.

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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