Silhouetted against the sun, Don May makes his way to the first… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
The 73-year-old in the baseball-style cap could not look happier.
It's 10:30 on a January morning, the winds are less than gale force, the sun is peeking through some clouds, and as he bends over on the first tee at the Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville, Bruno Heidik doesn't even need the little hammer he used last week to bash his golf tee into the frozen ground.
The tee "slides in nicely today," says Heidik before addressing the ball, taking a long backswing and belting an impressive drive down the middle of the fairway.
It has been a long, cold few months in Maryland, a state where most golf courses are open year-round - and where this winter's heavy snows have worsened golfers' annual bouts with cabin fever.
In Anne Arundel County, as elsewhere, business is always radically slower between Thanksgiving and March, when the days grow shorter and the winds icier, but don't tell die-hards like Heidik and his pals for the day, Don Goan, 73, and Harry Yost, 82, it's a bad time to indulge in their sport of choice.
They're among the dozens in the county who play regularly right through the calendar's coldest months, enduring whatever meteorological abuse (and eye-rolling from family members) it takes to be out on the course and swinging.
Weather permitting, of course.
"I'm not one of those lunatics," says Yost, a CPA and attorney from Arden-on-the-Severn. "It's got to be above freezing" for him to play. A wind kicks up, the sun ducks behind a bank of clouds, and the three finish their drives, marching off onto the soggy course.
The round is under way.
Winter golfers live and die by the weather report, and it wasn't lost on Heidik's group that forecasters called for afternoon temperatures in the 50s.
But like many a promising winter day in Maryland, this one didn't start so nicely.
Part-time pro shop worker Cliff Anderson says when he got up (he lives a few miles away, in Severna Park) and had to scrape ice off his windshield, he knew he wouldn't be opening the course at 8 a.m., the official starting time.
"I realized we'd have a frost delay," says Anderson. "When I got here, the whole course looked like it was covered in ice."
Course superintendent Mike Papineau finally gave the go-ahead at 10, by which time the rising sun had melted the ice clinging to individual blades of grass.
An hour later, the course looks about the way it will in March, when nature's thaw begins in earnest.
The fairways are as straw-colored as they are green. The turf is soggy. Erratic gusts whip the flags on a nearby green.
Below a grove of bare trees on a hillside, a lake is half-covered in ice.
"No reason you can't play well today," says Heidik, a retired businessman. "And walking keeps you remarkably warm."
A week earlier, he didn't feel as rosy. One morning, he and three buddies braved 30-degree temperatures at tee time at Compass Pointe, a public course in Pasadena.
The greens were clear, which meant the course could open for business, but patches of snow still dotted the ground.
Heidik, who uses only white golf balls, had some problems with that.
"You'd hit one onto a snowdrift and have to spend a long time looking for it," he says.
"They should make golf balls with little buzzers, so you can find them," Yost says.
These are the kind of guys who can make even grizzled pros scratch their heads.
"We love our die-hards, but there are times when I wonder what they're doing out there," says Steve Peterson, general manager of Bay Hills Golf Club, a popular Arnold course. "It can be 20 degrees [when they play]! I don't want to get the mail."
The weather warps the game itself, says Peterson. First, the chilly air hardens the cover on a ball and stiffens the fingers, which means if you don't strike it cleanly, "you're going to feel it in your hands - and I don't mean in a good way."
The cold also creates a paradox. Lower temperatures mean less of an energy transfer from club head to ball, which in turn means it won't travel as far. That's one reason even some of the proudest winter golfers aren't above playing from the so-called ladies' tees, a decision that shortens every hole by 20 percent or more.
"Actually, we usually refer to them as winter tees," Heidik says.
But even on warmer days like this day, the ground is still frozen so hard below the surface that a ball can roll crazy distances.
"Don't get too upset if you hit a beautiful shot onto the green and it bounces 15 feet in the air and over," Peterson says. "You kind of want to play British-style - just run it up there and let it roll."
Yost is using a new pull-cart he operates by remote control. He says it's necessary because his shoulders ache. But on one hole, his sudden, compact swing launches a liner that flies a while, then lands, bouncing over a ridge as though it had hit cement.
It's on the fairway - nirvana for a 20-handicapper.
"Nothing to this game!" Yost cries, and the group moves on.