Local golfers beat winter weather in organized scrambles

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation schedules five winter scrambles each year.

In the middle of winter, Rob Coyne and his friends were at the one place most golfers would least expect: the tee box.

Staring down hole No. 6 at Mount Pleasant, a 125-yard par-3, Coyne grabbed a pitching wedge out of his bag and, careful not to plunge his club into the frozen turf, swept the ball off the tee.

It headed toward the center of the green. Surely, he would have a chance at a birdie — par at the very least. But Mother Nature had other ideas.

"It hit it like it was hitting Perring Parkway," said Coyne, who grew up in Parkville and has been golfing for 30 of his 43 years. "The ball must have bounced 30 feet up in the air and rolled off the back of the green. So I laughed, and chipped back on."

While such moments are the reason why most golfers stay off the links when the temperatures drop, they're what keep Coyne and others coming back.

For the past three years, the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation, otherwise known as the Classic Five, has held roughly six winter scrambles in an effort to beat the cold and give golfers a reason to get outdoors.

"I was trying to figure out a way to entice people to come and play and have some fun, build some camaraderie and help us build a little revenue," said Brian Meyer, head PGA professional at Mount Pleasant. "Mainly, to get people out of the house."

The first tournament this year, the Frostbite Scramble at Mount Pleasant on Dec. 17, was canceled because of icy conditions, but five more were scheduled through March.

Despite losing a few events over the years to winter weather, Meyer has been pleased by the turnout since the first in December 2014. He expected about 60 people to register, but was delighted to discover more than 116 showed up to play, even in 35 degrees.

"I kind of almost fell over when it filled up like that," he said.

Surely, course managers, professionals and hackers alike prefer the summer breeze over the winter chill and would rather carry a six-pack than an insulated travel mug. But both Meyer, who turned pro in 1995, and Coyne, a true weekend warrior, agree that what sets winter golf apart from any other time of year is the atmosphere, particularly in tournaments.

"It's much more laid-back," Meyer said. "You get a lot of players who don't normally play in the high-level competitions playing."

Said Coyne: "You don't take it as seriously as summer, when you're trying to throw a low score up there. In the winter, you just really appreciate the opportunity to take advantage of a beautiful day."

Perhaps that's why you'll find blackjack and Texas Hold'em stations at some of the courses, an idea Meyer had early on. At the first hole of the Summer's Over Scramble at Clifton Park on Feb. 25, golfers can play the starter in a hand of Texas Hold'em. If the player wins, they tee off from a special tee that's closer to hole. If they lose, they tee off from the blue tees, the farthest from the pin. Players had the option to play blackjack before two holes at Pine Ridge during a scramble there last month for the same stakes.

Should a player want to try his luck again (or perhaps double down), there's also risk/reward holes scattered throughout, such as No. 10 at Mount Pleasant, a 540-yard par-5. There, a circle about 30 yards wide is drawn roughly 100 yards from the tee. If the ball lands inside, the player gets to drop between tee markers 15 yards off the green, providing a chance to chip in for double eagle. But if a player misses, they're left hitting their second shot about 440 yards from the green.

Coyne, who tries to play at least once a month every month of the year, does something similar with his friends to mix things up during the winter: the 5-iron challenge. It requires a player to only use a 5-iron the entire round, even for putting.

In his experience, greenside bunkers become even more treacherous.

"A buddy of mine thought he could open [the club face] up, and he did, and it hit the edge of the trap, popped straight up about 15 feet, drops on the green and rolls to within two feet and he made a putt for par," Coyne said. "And you're thinking, 'How are we doing this with one club?'"

But winter golf isn't all fun and games without preparation. There's the obvious remedies (dress in layers) and other workarounds (two pairs of socks, long johns, a stash of hand warmers inside a pair of mittens), but it's best to keep a free range of motion so as not to disrupt your swing. That means no heavy coats or sweaters.

"Don't bundle up like you're going to be out in the weather forever," Coyne said. "When you're moving around and you're swinging, you'll be OK. Just layer up nice and easy."

The preparation, however, is part of the fun. The weather might have taken a birdie away from Coyne, but it's a small price to pay. Over time, just by being out there, he'll get his revenge.

"The thing that everybody says, every single time you get to the end of the round and you're coming up 18 and sitting in the 19th hole and having a frosty adult beverage is, 'I feel like we stole something. I feel like we really got away with something today. Yeah, it was a little chilly, but gosh it was great to get out.'"

cdoon@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cjdoon

Winter scrambles

Summer's Over: Clifton Park Golf Course, Feb. 25, 8:30 a.m. shotgun start

Jack Frost: Mount Pleasant Golf Course, March 11, 9 a.m. shotgun start

Superintendent's Revenge: Forest Park Golf Course, March 25, 8:30 a.m. shotgun start

For registration and more information, go to classic5golf.com.

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