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A seasonal guide for skin-flint golfers

Golf is an intricate, storied sport, rife with innumerable potentially fascinating story possibilities that don't matter to anyone who doesn't play golf. However, every year since I began writing for Boise Weekly, I have volunteered to write our singular annual golf article, which inevitably focuses on the intricacies of cold-weather golf in the autumn and winter.

Usually, the reason for my willingness is that I'm the only staff person who uses an 8-iron for anything other than scratching my back or chasing raccoons out of the crawl space. However, this year's feature is special. Not only will I actually use it, but it is also the earliest cold-weather golf article we've published yet, and for a single reason: money. Boise Weekly believes in the virtues of being cheap as we believe in the virtues of playing year-round golf. And at courses around Southwest Idaho, discounted winter rates are beginning to take effect--some as early as this week, some not until November, and some, alas, never at all. A few of Southwest Idaho's mountain-area courses could also close for the year within a matter of days, if current weather trends continue ... to suck.

And so, we present the basics: No product profiles, no tips on the best place to hide a nip of warming agents in your golf cart--just info. First, we present a refresher course on the single greatest gift from the winter goddess Proserpine to the golf world: winter rules. Then, our guide to winter rates: Who's got them, who doesn't, and who is getting ready to board up the pro shop and play Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007 (by which we mean, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour) until spring.

Winter Rules

Most golfers who've been around the game for more than one round know about the "foot wedge," where a player illegally boots a ball from a difficult lie to a slightly less enraging one. Boise Weekly's official stance is that anyone who has ever lowered him- or herself to such behavior in a sanctioned United States Golf Association tournament deserves to be flogged with an argyle sock full of wooden tees. However, when that nudge is permitted by the USGA's The Rules of Golf, it's a prime opportunity to inflate a player's self-confidence to thoroughly unrealistic levels. In a game as difficult as golf, players should take those opportunities whenever they arise. The Rules reads:

"If a player's ball lies on a closely-mown area through the green [or a hole or holes specified by the course prior to the tournament], the player may mark, lift and clean the ball without penalty. Before lifting, the player must mark the position of the ball. The player must then place the ball on a spot within [a locally decided distance; usually either six inches or one club-length] of and not nearer to the hole than where it originally lay, that is not in a hazard or on a putting green."

That's right: No more "Play it as it lies." Go on, lift your Flying Lady out of that frozen squirrel carcass. Pluck your Maxfli out of that badger hole ... carefully. Just bear in mind that in tournament play, such actions are only allowed when explicitly stated by the course authorities, who will also determine the length players can legally move the ball.

Hitting from a slightly shaggy, slightly frozen patch of fairway grass, you'll hit the sweet spot on your clubs far more often. You may even be able to get that backspin you've always been fantasizing about, provided the green hasn't frozen as hard as the back of John Daly's head. That said, remember: The point of winter rules is to protect the course from being damaged by players, not to protect players' final score from being damaged by the elements. That means no cutting corners: Don't use your six inches to move your ball from a sand trap to a patch of grass, or from a lake to the shore, lest you get whacked with an immediate two-stroke penalty.

"But!" you shriek, "Say I lifted my ball out of a frozen divot, clean it off and place it six inches away, only to watch in horror as it rolled back into the very same godforsaken divot?" The rules say: tough witch's titties, Tiger. Once the ball has been placed, it is officially in play and must be dealt with as it lies.

And finally, if your ever-wandering ball comes to rest on top of a frozen lake, and you wander out onto the ice to hit it, you're not allowed to ground your club on the ice behind the ball before hitting it, since the lake is part of a water hazard. However, The Rules of Golf make no mention of this scenario, since to go out onto a lake to retrieve a ball--even one of those $3 Titleist ProV1s--is sheer lunacy, and negates you from all rule of law and good sense.

For a link to the Idaho Golf Association's schedule of winter tournaments, visit Rec online at www.boiseweekly.com.

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