Golfers shake off winter’s gloom with a slice of camaraderie at Golf USA
In midwinter in the Roaring Fork Valley, when most people have moved from the links to the lifts and traded in seven irons for skis, true diehard golfers have found a winter haven.It’s called Golf USA, a year-round golf store on Highway 82 between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. But for its rugged winter regulars, it’s so much more. Through the cold months, the store is a community gathering place, practice center and refuge from those insane folks who actually spend the snowy winters skiing.You won’t find fair-weather golfers here. The men and women who pass by will drive through sleet and snow to find a patch of green amid the white. And they want to tell you about it. The question when you bump into another golfer at Golf USA in the winter is always, “Where have you played?” The answers rarely differ (there’s only a handful of courses open in the winter on the Western Slope). The question is more an acknowledgment of kinship, like a password to an unspoken brotherhood. It’s a chance to strike up conversation, to boast about unexpected triumphs and share the familiar gripes of the game.”I hear Battlement’s open.”
“Yeah, but Redlands Mesa’s cutting their greens already.”Pause”How’s the game?”And a friendship is born. The store is manned by manager Frank Mooney. Most days, he wears a workman’s apron with his sleeves rolled up. He resembles a bartender, which was his past profession. Like the store, he plays many different roles for customers – swing counselor, equipment guru, friend. “Guys come in to talk about the courses that are open, but mostly they just want to brag about their rounds or complain about how they played. I don’t mind listening,” he says.
Golf USA, which is part of a franchise based in Oklahoma, has, despite its corporate beginnings, become a true community meeting site in the valley. Along with the normal golf store equipment such as tees, balls, bags, hats and clubs, the store offers a small artificial putting green and an area to hit balls into a net. It’s a modest indoor facility, more for trying demo clubs than practicing, but that’s hardly a deterrent. Often, customers come in just to hit balls and take a few putts; anything to be around the game.”The store definitely has a clubhouse feel. People come in all the time just to talk about golf; we joke about installing a couch and coffee machine,” Mooney says.Bob Greenly, a customer from Breckenridge, says he has planned trips to see his daughter, who lives in Carbondale, far more often since Golf USA opened eight years ago.”There’s nothing in Summit County in the winter, except for a little golf section in Gart Sports. So whenever I visit my daughter I make sure to stop off here,” he says.Although Golf USA naturally sees more customers in spring and summer, it does good business in the winter. Golfers are tinkers. Reluctant to assume blame for bad play, it is most often the equipment that gets blasted after bogies (the wind, caddy and playing partners are not far behind).
With all winter to rue means of improvement, the store offers a wide array of equipment repair and alteration services. Perhaps new grips will help? Maybe a new shaft? How about starting over with a brand new set of clubs?Working year-round at the golf shop, Mooney says he rarely has a chance to play, especially in the winter. When asked if the shop has a similar rule to many Aspen ski shops – if it snows 6 inches, the shop doesn’t open until noon – Mooney shakes his head.”On crystal-clear spring days customers are always stopping by in the morning for some last-second balls or tees. They’d be furious if we had an 80-degree rule,” he says.Mooney calls golf an “addiction,” but points out there are far worse addictions out there. A former bartender, he should know. With so many golfers coming in just looking for someone with whom to chew the fat, is his job all that different from bartending?”There are a lot of similarities. You have to know that often people just want someone to talk to – in this case, they want to talk about golf,” Mooney says. “I actually like it. It’s fun talking to people about their passion, even if it’s hard sometimes to get them to stop talking.”
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