Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 22, 2012

Shut Out On Thanksgiving, But Still Very Thankful

Thanksgiving Day on New Hampshire’s seacoast dawns cloudy, with the thermometer hovering at the freezing mark. But the forecast is brighter, and sure enough as the morning unfolds the clouds give way to a bright blue sky and the temperature climbs toward the low 50’s. With no wind to speak of and the sun shining down anyone standing outside receives the full benefit of every single one of those degrees; and while a Floridian might view such a day with alarm, for New Englanders such a day in the latter third of November must be counted as a welcome and unexpected bonus.

After a morning visit to my gym’s treadmill I have plenty of time to spare before a late afternoon trip to share Thanksgiving dinner with friends, and the lovely day seems designed for a walk around the links. It is the time of year in this part of the country when a chance to get in another nine before the weather forces golf courses to close down for the season is no sure thing. But here it appears that there is a chance to do so not bundled up against the elements, but in unexpectedly benign, even delightful conditions. At home there is a phone call to exchange greetings with close relatives followed by a quick shower and light lunch; then I am back in my car and making the short drive down Route 1 to my regular course. Nine holes walking is the plan, and I’ll be done in plenty of time for the ride up the Spaulding Turnpike to Dover, dinner, and football on the television.

That is the plan until my car crests one final small hill and the parking lot of the golf course in Greenland comes into view. It appears empty, and when I turn into it a few moments later it becomes obvious that there will be no walk around either nine of this course today. Still I take the time to park and walk up to the pro shop door. There a sign tells me what I already know, that Breakfast Hill is closed today. Apparently not content with merely doling out disappointment, the sign also tells me that the course will reopen in the morning. Since the Friday forecast is for weather every bit as nice as today that might seem like good news. But since a merger two years ago my employer now is open for business on the Friday after Thanksgiving. In the morning I will be knotting a Jerry Garcia tie around my neck, not donning a golf shirt and sweater. Rather than offering a bit of hope, the second part of the message on the pro shop door seems spiteful. For a moment I consider pulling my clubs out of the trunk and heading to the first tee. But it occurs to me that I really like this course and would rather not run the risk of being permanently banned from playing it.

Back in my car I drive across town to another local course. I haven’t played it in years because it is frankly not at the level of challenge or condition as my regular links, but as the minutes tick by I am suddenly not so choosy. Alas, as soon as I make the turn into the long driveway of this course I can see a parking lot every bit as deserted as the one I have recently left. Here too there will be no golf played on Thanksgiving Day.

I know of two courses under the same ownership that I am sure are open, mainly because I am on their email mailing list. But one is a forty minute drive west, and the other the better part of half an hour to the north. The reality is that getting to either one, playing nine holes and then getting back, all adds up to a time commitment that runs into and over my dinner commitment to friends, made more than a week ago.

In July or August this would all make for a good laugh, the story of the solo golfer unable to find a game. But this is an ideal day in November, when ideal days are so very rare. Worse, I know full well that after Friday, the forecast turns more seasonal, which is a euphemism for cold and unpleasant. Rain is predicted for Saturday, followed by a windy Sunday with temperatures only in the mid-30’s. The long-range outlook for the first weekend in December is no better; come to think of it have I ever played golf in December here?

So it is that I drive back into downtown Portsmouth hoping that I will be proven wrong, but knowing that for me this year’s golf season may have come to an abrupt end while staring at an unwelcome sign on the door of a darkened pro shop. But it is Thanksgiving after all, and even as I return to my apartment it occurs to me that if the forecast proves correct and my clubs can now be cleaned and put away until next March or April, then the season did not end today, in that empty parking lot. Rather it ended last Sunday, on another unexpectedly lovely November afternoon, when a friend and I played nine at the very Breakfast Hill course that was shuttered today; and that round was indeed something for which I was and remain thankful.

Thankful first because it was a couple of hours spent with a friend of forty years or more; time spent talking about things both great and small, issues that everyone would know about and matters that had meaning only to us. I am fortunate to have three such people in my life, and what better way to spend time, of which we are all only allotted so much, than that?

Thankful also because beyond any reasonable expectation or logical explanation, when the round was finished and the scores were tallied, on the par-35 back nine at Breakfast Hill Golf Club, I had returned a 40, my lowest nine-hole tally of the year. Perhaps it was the putting tip that I had recently read, which led me to choke up on the putter grip, thus shortening the shaft and bringing my eyes directly over the ball. Or perhaps the golf gods already knew what courses would be open on Thanksgiving and had taken a sneak peek at the long-range weather forecast; and so decided it was time to give me a break.

Whatever the reason, there was the curving fifteen footer falling in the heart of the cup on #10 to save par, and a straight putt of equal length finding the hole on #11 to salvage bogey after a very wayward drive over the trees and into an adjoining fairway. After consecutive bogies on #12 and #13 left me at three over, there was the crisp 9-iron safely on the green at the par-3 14th. The first roll up the two-tiered green was well short, but the nervy five footer for par fell in after rolling flirtatiously around the edge of the hole. After a routine par at the 15th, another drive sailed off to the right at the lengthy par-4 16th, leading to a series of misadventures. Eventually finding myself on the green in five shots and still ten or twelve feet from the hole, there was never a doubt about the putt going in and salvaging, if one can call it that, a double bogey. A routine par on the 17th, and then there we were on the 18th tee, waiting for the group ahead to move on out of the way.

Idly swinging the club, I noticed that I had allowed my left hand to get into a very weak position, turned almost under the club. It’s a grip that can cause the ball to go to the right, which had been happening on almost every hole. My last thought before the final drive was to turn my left hand back over the driver. The Titleist sailed into the sky, straight and true. A few minutes later, a shot with a 7-wood from the left side of the fairway took a similar trajectory into the blue. My friend was on the right side of the hole, with a better view of the green. He called out the two words that told me everything I needed to know, “Great shot.”

Two putts later, and the 40 was in the books, five over for nine holes. Two decades ago, when my handicap was in the mid-single digits, I expected to break 40 for nine, or 80 for eighteen, every time I teed it up. But age and a lack of play means that those halcyon days are but a distant memory. Now when a day like last Sunday comes around, and in cherished company to boot, it is a moment to be savored. One for which I am truly thankful on this Thanksgiving Day; all the more so if, as now seems likely, it turns out to be the final round of the year.

Still, perhaps this Sunday it won’t be quite as cold or the wind won’t blow quite as hard as they are saying it will; and the long-range forecast for next weekend, those things are never reliable. After all, as good as that 40 was, if it hadn’t been for the 16th……


  1. Reading this fine post reminds me of my chilly autumn years up in Maine. Brrr! I get cold just thinking about it. As a side note, Dover, N.H. is where I met my wife. We used to go on dates there, as well as in Portsmouth, in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s.
    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

    • Bill, thanks as always for your kind words. Hope you and your family had a good holiday!

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