WORCESTER, Mass – Golfers usually smile throughout their first round of the year after suffering through a long, hard winter. They’re so happy to be out in the fresh air and on the golf course again, a double bogey isn’t going to ruin their day.
But returning to the course in New England this year means more than ever because everyone has been cooped up inside and unable to get together with friends because of the pandemic.
So when Green Hill Municipal Golf Course opened for the season on St. Patrick’s Day, it wasn’t only the Irish who were smiling. Everyone was. The same was likely true at every golf course that has opened this month.
Last year, Green Hill opened for the season in February, but the state closed Green Hill and all golf courses a few days before St. Patrick’s Day because of the pandemic. After they reopened several weeks later, they were busy for the rest of the season because golf was one of the few activities that could be practiced safely. It’s played outside and players can social distance. Courses lost weddings and outings, but the amount of play was high.
Green Hill assistant pro Matt Foley said the club sold about 50 memberships on St. Patrick’s Day, the most in one day in his three years there. The tee sheet was full from when the course opened at 8 a.m. until the pro shop closed at 5:30 p.m. even though carts weren’t allowed.
“Normally, when it’s walking only, half the people won’t play because they want to ride, but not Wednesday,” Foley said.
“It shows me that the COVID demand for golf is not going away,” Foley said, “and this year it’s going to be just as demanding for people to play golf as last year. I don’t see that demand going away at all.”
“They were able to get out after being socially starved for the last year, it’s great,” Green Hill superintendent Tim O’Brien said.
Green Hill was more brown than green on St. Patrick’s Day, but it was mid-March so none of my golfing buddies cared. The sun was shining, the temperature reached the low 50s and everyone was glad to spend four hours catching up with one another. The round took everyone’s minds off the pandemic.
My St. Patrick’s Day round got off to a great start when I found a metal ball marker with a green shamrock on it in the parking lot. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use the ball marker on the par-5 ninth hole when I hit my 80 yard approach to within a foot for a tap-in birdie.
To get in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I wore a green beanie with a small Irish flag on the front. After a few holes, the weather warmed enough for me to stick the beanie in my bag and wear my green Celtics cap for the rest of the round. At the turn, I tossed my jacket in my car and played with only a vest over my long-sleeve golf shirt.
Ron Lohnes, who is half Irish, lifted his top two layers of clothing to reveal a Thanksgiving Day themed T-shirt which read: “Football, turkey, nap, repeat. Life is good.”
A more appropriate T-shirt for golfing on St. Patrick’s Day would have read: “Golf, corned beef, nap, good night.”
Walking the hills of Green Hill and breathing fresh air for four hours for the first time in months can be tiring, especially for golfers in their 60s and 70s like us. It takes a few rounds to get used to it – even for younger golfers.
“It’s pretty awesome, it’s nice to be outside,” Aaron Rask, 42, of Worcester said, “but it’s a struggle because I’m out of shape. It’s not easy.”
The fun and camaraderie overshadowed the fatigue, however.
“It’s great,” Lohnes said. “It’s been miserable being in the house. The weather hasn’t been great. I’ve done some walking, but other than that I’ve been very bored.”
“It’s wonderful,” said Herb Donahue of Rutland. “The weather’s warm, there’s light winds, I’m hitting the ball well.”
Kevin Tivnan of Princeton is 100 percent Irish and he played his first round since October with a green golf ball.
“It’s the only thing green I could find,” he said.
Fighting off the rust could be an issue during the first round of the year, but on the other hand golfers haven’t developed any bad habits yet.
“There’s no muscle memory,” Tivnan said.
Green Hill had very little snow, but the bunker to the left of the 12th green was filled with the white stuff. So for fun, I dropped a ball into the snow and blasted it onto the green. A little while later I made a snowball and threw it, just so I could say that I threw my last snowball and played my first round of golf at the same time and place.
That’s something golfers in Florida never get to do.