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45° Good Afternoon

The virtues of golf in the winter

I play once a week — all year ’round.

Scott Ross of Freeport, right, and Miali Makelele

Scott Ross of Freeport, right, and Miali Makelele of Merrick practice their swings at the Eisenhower Park driving range in East Meadow on Feb. 16, 2018. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

I love the outdoors. I grew up skiing and playing tennis. At age 50, I took up running. But golf was always a mystery. My wife’s five brothers grew up caddying. I’d watch them play, but was always on the sidelines.

Then about 25 years ago, when I was about 65, I took a lesson with a brother-in-law who was a golf pro at a course in Fortuna, California. It took some time to learn the basics — take my club back slowly, keep my head still, keep putts lined up to the hole — but in a short time, I was hooked.

Now I play once a week — all year ’round.

As long as the temperatures are above freezing, I enjoy the company of other diehard ball strikers who, like me, are happy to see uncrowded fairways, to enjoy lots of fresh air, and to hit balls at a fairly rapid pace.

Before going out, I don two pairs of pants. The inner pair, like black longjohns, are made of a synthetic fiber that isn’t itchy. I put on two long-sleeve shirts, a T-shirt and a winter jacket cut to the waist. Woolen gloves with the fingers cut off keep my hands warm and allow club control. On my feet I wear synthetic ankle socks and shoes with small cleats. A warm fleece hat covers my ears.

After a breakfast of Rice Krispies, bran flakes and a banana, I head for the course around mid-morning. I like Bethpage State Park in the summer, but in the winter, when it’s free of snow, I play at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, usually on the white or blue course. The senior rate for residents is $15 for nine holes.

In the summer, it’s important to make reservations. Otherwise, the wait for a tee time can be a few hours. But in the winter, weather permitting, the courses open at 6:30 a.m. every day except Christmas. Reservations aren’t necessary, and if there’s no snow, players can tee off once the frost melts off. Even when there’s snow on the ground, it’s often still possible to use one of the 60 bays in the driving range — as long as the supply of balls doesn’t run out.

A social soul, I like someone to talk to every so often. You never know who you might play with — a doctor, a minister, it could be anybody from any kind of job. They’re all very interesting and they all have their own approach to the game. Even more important, it helps when others keep their eyes open for any errant golf shots. I generally prefer yellow balls in any season. At my age, they’re easier to see and find in the brush. A winter plus: When the ball bounces on the frozen ground, my drives get a few extra yards of distance.

One thing you can count on in winter golf is that you will do a lot of walking. Riding carts are not allowed because they can chew up the grass. Courses need time to recover from the crowded, warm months.

My usual score for 18 holes is a little above 100. Golf is a very tough sport, very challenging, but I love the ambience of the game and the camaraderie. Sometimes I don’t even keep score.

Will writing about the winter game possibly bring out crowds who read this? Financially, there’s no doubt that Nassau County would not turn down those golf dollars. I’m sure officials would say, Keep ’em coming. We’re open!

Reader Bert Jablon lives in Syosset.