Desert golf is cheap in the summer, but be prepared for high temps

By Todd A. Vines, Contributor

It's summer in the Sonoran Desert. Well before noon the thermometer will display triple digits. Regardless, thousands of people will head out across the hottest desert in North America and spend a sweltering four hours under the Sonoran sun, all in the name of golf.

Are they nuts?

Phoenix, Ariz., has long been loved as a place where golfers can find a reprieve from winter. While golf clubs further north spend their winter chasing sledding children off the back nine and waiting for the spring thaw, Phoenix fairways stay open for business.

But where winter may offer ideal conditions for a pilgrimage to the Valley of the Sun, summer is a considerably different story.

Triple digit days arrive by May and last through September. An average Phoenix summer will bring nearly 100 days with temperatures reaching 100 degrees or greater. About a dozen of those days will top a searing 115 degrees. And those are just averages. Three weeks of 110 degree days helped make July 2003 the hottest month recorded in Phoenix since the National Weather Service started keeping track in 1896.

And people golf in this stuff?

"All summer long," says Derek Crawford, director of Sales and Guest Services at We Ko Pa Golf Club, just east of Scottsdale. "People are passionate about golf. They're willing to endure extremely hot days to do what they love. We have over 170 golfers out on the course today."

Keeping cool on the course can be a challenge, but it's critical. Most clubs offer giant coolers of water every few holes to keep patrons hydrated. Some clubs, like Whirlwind at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, send each cart out with a fully-iced personal cooler. All clubs have drink carts circling the links, laden with sports drinks, water and ice.

One of the greatest incentives to endure such summer extremes are the heavily discounted green fees. As the mercury rises, rates drop. Resorts across the Valley offer their lowest prices of the year and golf/resort packages cost a fraction of what they do in winter.

Locals have long embraced the summer price plummet. Clubs that command winter rates of $200 or more, offer rates marked down as much as 75 percent.

Rod Kinney, founder of Phoenix-based Maesche Networking & Entertainment Group, says that for him the math is simple. "When I tell people from out of state that I frequent certain high-end courses, they wonder how I afford it. But summer is great for long days and cheap green fees. I do the majority of my golfing from June to September. As far as I'm concerned, half the price means twice the golf."

But regardless of great rates, it's all for not if you can't complete your round.

While your buddies may argue that weakness, dizziness and agitation are a normal part of your game, they're also the first signs of heat illness.

When exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods, the body's natural ability to cool down can become overwhelmed. As the temperature of the body's inner core begins to rise, so does the risk of heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion and even heatstroke are possible.

Age, physical health and even gender all play a role in how we're affected by the heat. Since men sweat more than women, they dehydrate quicker and are more susceptible to heat illness. Golfers traveling from a cooler climate may be more susceptible as well.

When taking advantage of sizzling summer rates, here are a few tips that will help you keep your cool.

Drink plenty of water

Don't wait until you feel thirsty. Health experts recommend drinking between 16 and 32 ounces of water every hour.

Embrace electrolytes

This is what sports drinks were made for. They work well the keep you hydrated and replenish electrolytes.

Steer clear of beer

It may go against your natural instincts, but when it's hot out save the boozing for the clubhouse. Beverages with alcohol, caffeine or lots of sugar only amplify the dehydration process.

Seek shade

It may be a challenge to find shade on a desert course, but when you do find some, take advantage of it.

Tee off early

The sun rises before 6 a.m. most of the summer, leaving plenty of time to get a round in before it hits 100 degrees.

Slather up

Sunscreen is a must. It's harder for your body to keep sunburned skin cool. The only good place for a duffer to get a rosy nose is at the bar.

Don a visor

That Kangol may look cool, but it's holding the heat in. Your body discharges the bulk of your excess heat through your head. Visors keep the sun off your face and help keep you cool.

Dress cool

Choose clothes that are loose fitting and lightweight. Avoid dark colors that absorb and hold heat.

Todd A. Vines, Contributor

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