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Spring Thaw? No Such Thing

Given that it’s still in March, it is with pleasure bordering on astonishment that I am able to report the following: Spring is busting out all over. And so is golf.

No kidding. Really. You may have noticed.

This time last year, you may recall, if golf courses all over Philadelphia weren’t still under a blanket of snow, they definitely were still under a blanket of blah. Even if you could see a fairway, it tended to be brown, wet and soggy.

But this year, sing, “Hallelujah.”

From the Jersey Shore to Harrisburg, everywhere you look, golf courses are packed with gobsmacked golfers who barely are able to believe their good fortune of warm, sunny skies.

“This is about as good as it gets,” said Darin Bevard, senior agronomist with the U.S. Golf Association’s Green Section, based in Glen Mills. “Enjoy it while it lasts.”

Bevard spends his days consulting with golf course superintendents in the Mid-Atlantic region. So far as they can tell, we’re are about 10 to 14 days ahead of schedule, in terms of the spring awakening.

“It’s 78 degrees right now,” said Bevard, when we spoke late last week. “That’s 24 or 25 degrees above normal for this time of year.”

Bevard isn’t telling Sandy Chisholm, longtime member of Manufacturers’ Golf & Country Club, anything he doesn’t already know.

“Most years, I’ve not played any rounds of golf in Philadelphia at this point,” said Chisholm. “This year, I’ve already played 10.”

At Talamore Country Club, in Ambler, general manager Jon Hazelwood also is loving the early spring.

“We are seeing members we don’t typically see until late April, and I am seeing a lot more smiling faces and happy people,” said Hazelwoood. “People are playing and practicing. Everybody is ecstatic.”

In the western suburbs, at Honeybrook Golf Club, the semi-private course in Honey Brook, business manager and part-owner Donna Horvath reports that revenue for the first three months of the year is 57 percent ahead of the same period in 2011.

“We are busy every day, and people are signing up for our memberships,” said Horvath. “The other daily-fee owners I talk to are also busy, so everybody is happy.”

The weather, obviously, is a huge factor. But Hovarth, who attended last month’s annual meeting of the National Golf Course Owners Association, sees other, bigger signs for encouragement.

“Spirits were up in general,” said Horvath, suggesting that golf course owners see reason for encouragement about the economy. That’s another column for another day.

Meanwhile, what makes our early spring all the more welcome to golfers and courses alike is that it comes on the heels of the wimpiest winter we’ve had in years. In 2011, we got snow cover beginning in November and it never left until the spring melt, in April.

This year, the only significant snow we got fell in October, around Halloween, and it was gone within a few days. Nor did we get any of the ice storms or prolonged low temperatures so common for Philadelphia winters.

“We went from having record snowfall last year to record non-snowfall this year,” said Hazelwood, who came to Talamore from Pinehurst in 2008. “It’s the first year since I got here that we had winter golf.”

If golfers and course owners are smiling, so are superintendents, who have been able to tackle repair and improvement projects all winter. “Our guys are well ahead of schedule,” said Horvath.

Is there any kind of dark lining to this lovely bright blue cloud?

“I don’t want to jinx us,” said the USGA’s Bevard. “But we could use a little rain. A half-inch overnight would be nice.”


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