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Wharton: Cold doesn't deter golfers

Published January 30, 2013 1:14 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It might have been 28 degrees outside and the Wasatch Front mountains covered with a pre-Christmas dusting of snow.

But that did not keep a half-dozen golfers away from the Golf in the Round driving range and practice greens. A few even disdained the heated indoor bays so they could practice hitting balls off frozen natural grass.

"It's addicting," said Barry Crawford, who hit off the grass as he prepared for a future golf trip to Mexico. "I've got to stay one step ahead of my buddies."

Wendell Graves of Murray, who took advantage of the indoor bay and heater, offered similar sentiments.

"Everybody wants to golf better," he said. "When the season opens up, you want to beat your buddies. This is something to do. You get some exercise, get out of the house and get away from the television for a while."

For Al Azad of Murray and Makata Fehoko of Salt Lake City, hitting balls in the dead of winter is important. Both recently took up golf and are still honing the basics of their game.

"I'm just learning," said Azad, whose long drives off the mat seemed to indicate he'd paid close attention to his lessons.

"I want to make sure I don't forget the little things I've learned. If I wait until spring again, I will forget everything I learned. I took up golf in the fall."

Besides, he said, the bay is heated and it only takes him about 20 minutes to hit a bucket of balls, a large one that costs $9 and a small bucket that goes for $4.50.

Nearby, one golfer practiced his irons near the Utah Professional Golfers Association office. Yellow golf balls littered one practice green. At another, a man patiently practiced his putting.

Steve Archuleta, who has worked at the course and driving range for the past four years, said it isn't unusual to see 40 or 50 customers a day in the winter.

"That doesn't surprise me at all," he said. "The only competition is Mulligans in Draper. … Why are people so crazy? They want a place to golf all year long."

I know the feeling.

I join a group of buddies each January for a trip to St. George and Mesquite, where we play 54 holes of golf on three courses in three days. The weather is usually decent, but we've played in hail, rain, frigid temperatures and, last year, in a blustery windstorm. The elements can make for a fun but challenging 18.

I'm not certain that I'm dedicated enough to try a January round in Salt Lake City.

But lots of people apparently do.

"It's an addiction," said Marlin Pineklman, golf course superintendent at the Central Valley course next to Golf in the Round. "I've seen people out in 20-degree weather."

As someone charged with keeping the fairway turf and greens in good shape, he flinches some days when golfers ask to play the course. Even with sunshine on it, the ground and greens can be almost frozen.

So few want to play that he often lets some of the more dedicated golfers out for a round on the coldest of days.

I marveled at the craziness of it all. I was wearing a heavy leather coat and shivered as golfers slammed balls into the driving range. And I can't imagine that it would feel particularly good on your hands if you didn't hit the ball well, a common problem for duffers such as me.

Still, I suppose there are worse ways to spend a Saturday morning or an hour after work.

And Archuleta said the driving range gets particularly busy in early January when golfers who got new clubs for Christmas eagerly come out to try them out.

So, this time of year, I guess you shout "ffffffffore" as you shiver.

Wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Tribtomwharton