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Golf in winter: What this Floridian learned about playing in the Massachusetts cold

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QUINCY, Mass. — A large bouquet of steel and carbon fiber still sits neglected in a corner of my apartment.

It’s been about six months since I moved to New England from Florida’s so-called “golf capital” in Palm Beach County.

It’s home to golf professionals, active and retired, from Tiger Woods to Brooks Koepka to Jack Nicklaus. Conditions for golf are sublime for most of the year, save the risk of a random sunshower in the summer. The only other hazard you might have to watch out for besides bunkers and ponds are invasive green iguanas that enjoy sunning their scales on a warm day.

But my golf clubs continue to collect dust rather than pars – OK, I’ll be more realistic: double bogeys. Since relocating 1,500 miles north, I had gotten distracted by exploring Greater Boston and soaking in the final dregs of summer, then taking advantage of a true autumn with leaf-peeping and cider-drinking. Before I knew it, winter had arrived.

This time of year in South Florida, I golfed less frequently, awaiting the return of hotter temperatures that meant fewer snowbirds and cheaper rounds of golf.

But driving past a snow-blanketed course recently, I wondered whether winter golfing was even a thing here. The thought alone made me shiver.

So I did what any journalist would do: I asked the experts. Four South Shore golf pros clued me in on the golf scene and gave me some much-needed advice. Here’s what they said.

Do Massachusetts golf courses close for the winter?

Yes and no, as it turns out. Finding out involves a bit of research.

“Places on the South Shore and closer to the Cape are the ones most likely to stay open,” said Bobby Iannarone, co-head golf professional at Granite Links Golf Club in Quincy, which closes for the winter season.

Kayden Serkiz putts at Harmon Golf in Rockland, Massachusetts. (Photo: Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger)

The courses that close for the winter do so for various reasons, like fewer staff or protecting the turf from damage. This time off allows some country clubs the opportunity to plan events for the upcoming season, noted Alec Vozzella, head golf professional at the private Marshfield Country Club. Some courses even become ideal sledding spots.

It’s also a good time for courses to conduct much-needed maintenance that couldn’t be done otherwise while packed full of golfers, like cart path refurbishment, tee-box painting or tuning up machinery, said Chris Riley, head golf professional at South Shore Country Club in Hingham.

Some courses may operate on a modified winter format, Riley added, during which golfers must walk instead of using carts or greens are temporarily relocated.

Is golf in Massachusetts cheaper in the winter?

Relatively speaking, yes. Through a quick search of public tee times for the end of February, some courses offered a round of 18 holes for $30 while others charged $65 for non-residents. A round of golf in winter at South Shore Country Club, which is open for walking-only golf until March 31, is almost half of what it is during the season, Riley said.

“They don’t charge the same they would in the summertime. They’re still getting a decent buck,” said Dana Smith, the golf professional at Presidents Golf Course in Quincy. This course, though, is also closed for the winter.

What’s the best way to play golf during the winter in Massachusetts?
Short of buying a plane ticket to Florida (which Vozzella half-jokingly suggested), the key is the right amount of layers and warm hands.

Kayden Serkiz chips out of snow at Harmon Golf in Rockland, Massachusetts. (Photo: Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger)

“It’s easier to lose a layer after a few holes if you are too warm than to get an extra jacket or pullover on the third hole if you are too cold,” Riley said.

Smith typically puts on a few layers with a vest as the final piece. But he’s careful not to put on too many or too thick layers, as it could hurt in the long run.

“If you get that third layer down by your wrist, you’re like a robot,” Smith said. “You can develop bad swing habits if you’re layered up a little too tight.”

Rain pants, Smith and Iannarone suggested, will also help keep the warm in and the brisk wind out.

Some golfers invest in transparent cart coverings or cart heaters. Other accessories to keep in mind include HotHands pouches or specialized winter golf gloves.

“Even if driving carts are an option, your best bet to stay warm is to walk,” Riley said.

Are golf simulators a good substitute?

It seems like golf alternatives are everywhere on the South Shore. Golf Lounge 18 just opened at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, and a location of X-Golf America opened in Hanover in December. Plus, Canton last year got Massachusetts’ very first Topgolf location, which functions more closely to a driving range.

Whether to play golf in climate-controlled comfort is a matter of preference. But most said the real thing is hard to beat.

While they’re good for practice, Smith said he doesn’t see himself making a habit out of using golf simulators during the winter. He’ll get out on the fairway if the “feels like” temperature is at least 38 degrees, but even then, he would rather do laundry or another house chore before facing the blustery or frigid outdoors.

Vozzella considers himself a “fair-weather golfer,” but he enjoys hitting balls at Champions Indoor Golf. The technology, like many simulators, allows him to track data like the club face angle and path. It’s a good way to keep swinging a club through the winter, otherwise it would be like “starting from scratch” come spring, he said.

At least in the virtual realm, you won’t be wasting time searching for your white golf ball in a pristine patch of snow (a good reminder to stock up on colorful balls for winter).

“Nothing beats seeing the ball fly down a fairway, but if a golfer practices or plays a little bit in the winter, the awkward feeling of the first swing or first round in the spring goes away,” Riley added. “No more putting the clubs away for three to four months.”

As for me, I’ve played at Topgolf a handful of times and only tried a golf simulator when testing out a new 7-iron. But even a bad round of golf in less-than-optimal weather is better than nothing.

The first day of spring, for anyone keeping score, is March 19.

Photos: Check out these golf courses covered in snow