More than a game: The joy of winter greens

The weather has been glorious for the time of year. There's only one natural phenomenon that could spoil the party.

Venue: Ballater

Date: 24 October

Weather: Early frost clearing later

Greens: 13 winter and 5 summer

Mats: No

Preferred Lies: Yes ? but I?ve only just remembered that. It was fairly irrelevant for me anyway as I don't recall being on any fairways.

Alliance competitors enjoyed the season?s first foray onto winter greens yesterday at Ballater. An early morning frost meant the summers were white for the earliest starters. It wasn?t until they reached the 14th that the greenkeeper deemed it acceptable for the pins to go back on the proper putting surfaces.

We?ve been enjoying a marvellous spell of weather over the past few weeks but, unfortunately, Tuesday?s clear skies stayed clear through Tuesday night resulting in a thick blanket of frost on Wednesday morning. I opened my curtains yesterday to be greeted by a very wintry scene. Jessie?s immediate reaction was, ?Isn?t it beautiful.? My immediate reaction was, ?Oh god, winter greens.? I picked up my mobile and sent Stewart a text. It simply read, ?bugger.?

We arrived at Ballater to find not only were we on winter greens but there was also a forty minute delay due to early fog. Not a problem we thought, we?ll go and enjoy a leisurely bacon roll. We were forgetting that Ballater has a reputation for the speediest bacon roll production this side of the Cairngorms. Approaching the counter I managed to splutter, ?two bacon rolls ple?? before a pair of plates were thrust out to me. ?And can I have a pot of ?? ?Thanks.?

So we?d consumed our bap and tea within about four minutes of arrival. It meant a long wait and plenty of time to mull over everything that?s wrong with winter greens. Firstly, and most obviously, they?re incredibly difficult to putt on. To recreate the sensation at home try coating your carpet in a mixture of corn flakes and jam. Secondly, they tend to be very small and often surrounded by rough. You can hit a seemingly good shot but find your ball 10 feet from the cup and barely visible in the long grass. Thirdly, it?s extremely tricky to judge how far away they are. You have the length of the hole on the card but then have to estimate: ?Well, it looks about 30 yards short of the normal green and I?m about 10 yards short of the 150 post, the winter green is about three yards deep and the wind?s against us?. Och, I?ll just hit wedge and hope for the best.?

When we finally teed off our worst fears were fairly rapidly realised. I missed a one foot putt on the first. I went to tap it in and forgot I needed to take a half swing just to get it moving. Then at the third, normally a testing par 3 of over 200 yards, we had no idea how far away the winter green was. It was somewhere between 30 and 190 yards. It turns out it was about 150.

It was all rather disappointing. Ballater is one of the most pleasant courses on the Alliance circuit, it?s a track I know well and the weather was beautiful. But we were hacking it around to temporary greens and having to trust in luck as much as judgement to get the ball in the hole. By the time we reached the first proper green at the 14th my score had long since gone west. To add insult to injury, the summer greens had been recently hollow tined and heavily sanded. They were fast and bumpy: not an ideal combination. I limped in with a 76. Stewart beat me again with a 71. We weren?t happy but consoled ourselves with the fact everyone had to endure similar conditions. This theory held water until we saw the winner had posted a 64.

I?ve currently lost the ability to return a good score. I don?t feel I?m playing particularly badly, I just can?t get the ball in the hole. So it?s back to the drawing board for Edzell next week. I hope it?s not winter greens there. If it is, there?ll be another spanner hurtling towards the works: they have bucket holes.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?