Apostle Highlands GC, Hole No. 6

Hole No. 6 showcase's falls beauty at Apostle Highlands Golf Course in Bayfield.

This morning emerged from the darkness like a battleship, slow-moving and unrelentingly gray, and it was almost a relief. Maybe, I thought, I might actually get some work done.

Because it was time for work, given how much I’d been playing lately. Golf, of course, most recently 18 holes at Pinewood Country Club in Harshaw on a delicious autumn day, an October round with a longtime friend that has become something of a fall tradition.

I played the day before that at Apostle Highlands in my hometown, and the day before that as well. The week before I played 18 holes at Majestic Oaks Golf Course in Delavan and the next day 18 more at Lake Wisconsin Country Club before heading back to Bayfield in time for a men’s night nine a day later. I’d probably be playing today but for a deadline that must be fed.

You might say I have been stocking up on fall golf the way squirrels store up nuts and the neighborhood bears chow down desperately, and for exactly the same reason.

Don’t make me say it but you know what I mean.

It’s been a mostly stupendous autumn in the far north, filled with days of sunshine and 70s and, so far, nothing even close to a killing frost. Last week I ran into Peter Nomm, the former PGA pro at Minocqua Country Club, who similarly raved about the easy fall. Last week, he said, he played an event with his sons on a weekend that usually coincides with the first snow of the season in Vilas County. “And we played in shorts,” he marveled.

Well who needs pants? The grass is still growing and while the ferns in the woods where I live long ago browned and withered and color has left a lovely blush on the hills, temperatures remain balmy. But the squirrels and the bears know, as I also know whether I want to admit it or not, that change is afoot. That body of water outside my office window is Lake Superior and while Gitche Gumee might let you delay the inevitable seasonal reckoning it will never let you deny it.

As the popular tourist T-shirt here proclaims, “The Lake Is the Boss.” The gales of November are tradition here, too. So every day I can, I play golf, because every day I can play golf might be the last for a good long time.

We who winter in Wisconsin look at this time of year so unlike those weather wimps who flee for warmer climes. One of my partners this week was getting ready to ship his sticks to Florida, where he also has a home and golf has no off-season. Other friends have already left for Arizona or Florida or will be heading out soon, never again to know the joy of a roaring wood fire on a dark and snowy night.

Or the weight of a shovel filled with wet snow. I admit my strategy isn’t without flaws.

The days are numbered, and the number isn’t big. A number of northern courses traditionally close the third weekend of October and, by gosh, look at the calendar. And so I play on, enjoying every round because autumn golf pleases in so many ways. The great John Updike, who also loved golf, once wrote, “Autumn brings to the courses an especial beauty. The maples flare a pinking red, the hickories turn a buttery yellow, the oaks withdraw into a rusty brown. The trees generally show bare branches and a fresh new breadth of light washes over the fairways.

“The migrating geese honk overhead, the squirrels hustle back and forth with their urgent acorns, and the golfer as he strides briskly along feels alone in a tawny Eden. The young are back in school and the old have retreated to Florida; to the survivors belongs the course, until the first snow falls.”

Urgent acorns, yeah. The squirrels and I know exactly what he means.

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