Now that winter seems like it’s behind us for good, we start getting into the meat of golf season.  Like you, I love watching the West Coast swing, and even the Florida swing can give us that good-vibes feeling of what’s to come (before the Masters tells us it’s time to tee it up).

Part of what I love about golf is that every time you tee it up, you’re testing yourself.  Today might be that worst round possible (which is why I suggest keeping airplane bottles in your golf bag), or it might be that rare day when it all comes together.  Or, if you’re like most of us, it’s somewhere in between.  But for the most part, standing on that first tee is still a thing of wonderment because we don’t know what will lies ahead for us over the next 3 1/2-4 hours (hopefully).

In that vein, if you really want to test yourself and you’re up for it, the Solstice Survival is something you should consider doing at least once.  It’s put on by Golfstyles which is one of those magazines you see in the grill rooms and pro shops at some golf courses (I subscribe so I don’t have to “borrow” a copy).  For the uninitiated, the Solstice Survival is 54 holes (3 full rounds) of continuous play golf (these events are always during the week- the only people on the course are your fellow competitors); you start at sunrise and finish after you putt out after your 54th hole of the day which is usually close to sunset, and it’s a competition so there’s no gimmes or mulligans.  You play the same course for all 3 rounds, with the same group (hopefully you get a decent group of guys- unless you have your own foursome in which case good for you!).  For what it’s worth, I have no association with Golfstyles, and while they’re welcome to share this article, they weren’t consulted on this and anything I write is my own opinion (and if you’ve met me you know I’m stubborn as a mule and not prone to be easily swayed).

I played two years (both times at Musket Ridge), and once things (body parts, limbs) start to work normally again, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  So you’re sitting there, reading this (and my, what great taste you have in golf blogs), and you’re wondering what sane person would do this (you’d be surprised), and what the hell am I getting myself into?  The day isn’t cheap (you’re looking at anywhere from $240-$300 for the day depending on where you play at, but that does include food and drink and a decent gift bag), and you’ll be out of pocket until late evening (well past sunset), but isn’t that the idea?  Maybe you’ve played 36 holes before, but have you ever played 54 holes in one day?  Sure- this sounds like a great idea when it’s winter and you’re weeks from even thinking about seeing courses open, but what about the actual day?  Read on.

Both times, the day starts around 3:00 a.m., which allows me time to get up, get myself put together, get dressed, take care of the dogs, and try to be on the road by 4:00 a.m. and allow me an hour to make the trek to Musket Ridge, which Google Maps says will take 49 minutes without traffic (you’ll want to have directions and driving times figured out the night before).  This will allow time to stop for a coffee and still get to the course and loosen up.  Despite the DMV having terrible traffic, at this hour it’s manageable.  It’s also dark which means you’re likely sharing the highway with truckers and other early-risers along with your fellow die-hard golfers.

Pulling into the parking lot while it’s still dark can be a bit off-putting if you’re not used to it, but being someone who prefers to play early it’s old hat.  However, the parking lot is quickly filling up, which is not usually the case (the event does a shotgun start so everyone starts at the same time).  If you’re smart, you brought plenty of balls (more on this later), and you’ve got plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, and hopefully and extra glove or two.  The event provides refreshments on the course so no worries on that front but I do have a bottle of swing juice to get me going in the morning.

After a quick stop at the registration desk to pick up my goody bag (2 dozen balls of a brand I don’t play but I’ll end up re-gifting, a couple highball glasses and a too-small golf shirt), I then carry my bag over and find the cart I’ll be in.  Everyone’s doing the same thing- carrying their bag around looking to see where your assigned cart is.  Many will then hit the range to warm up; some will seemingly try to hit a full bucket (keep in mind it’s still dark), while others will hit a couple balls and work on their chipping and putting.

Looking at my watch, it’s time to make a quick stop in the washroom, pop a couple ibuprofen, and put some analgesic cream on my back and shoulders (it’ll help loosen them up for now- I know that by sunset I’ll be in a world of pain again but it’s worth it).  It’s also time to take one last look at my smart phone; part of playing 54 holes of continuous golf is that there’s no time to check e-mail or take calls.  It’ll all get handled later tonight or tomorrow morning.  I’m sure that 20 years ago, this didn’t seem like a big deal but try going a day of being off the grid, unreachable, and out of pocket.  I can see many folks freaking out at the idea, but that’s the point.  Worry about work tomorrow.  Today, it’s all about golf and lots of it.

After getting a quick speech from the Golfstyles folks and the home pro, just as the sun starts coming up and there’s enough light (or close enough) for play,  everyone gets into their carts and heads out to their assigned starting hole.  It may be cool at the time, but both times it’s been warm by mid-day (the first year it got up into the low 90’s, the next year it was in the low 80’s).

On the first hole, there’s the usual introductions and hope of a good day out for everyone before we tee off.  At this point, I’m just hoping to make decent contact.  The first year I played the nerves got to me in a big way, as I hit a worm-burner that went dead left and put me on my way to a nice triple bogey to start the round.  Few things stir the soul quite like “just made a snowman on a par 5, and I’ve got another 53 holes to go”.

Hopefully, you start to rectify things if you got off to a bad start, or even better- if you got off to a good start you’re having your share of birdies and pars.  Since this is a “count ’em all, play by the book” event, there’s no gimmes, so that 18 inch putt to save bogey has to be holed (and I swear it looks like that hole is about 1/2 the size it should be).  Seems simple until you’re putting on greens that have quickened up since the sun has come out and you’re not exactly Brad Faxon with the flat-stick.  It’s starting to warm up so that windshirt or sweater vest you started the day with has surely come off.  There’s no free drops if you hit one in the woods or in a hazard; if you can’t find it you use the lost ball rule, if it’s a hazard  you proceed based on the USGA rule book (should probably have a copy in your bag).

By this time, you’re putting out on your 18th hole of the day; normally you’d be shaking hands but you’ve got another 36 holes to go!  So now it’s time to play that hole you started your day on…again.  But now you know where everything is so this time will be that much better (or so you think).  The way that the Solstice Survival works is that when you play the 18th hole (of the golf course) during your second round is when you stop for lunch.  If you’ve ever seen a NASCAR or Formula 1 pit stop, then you get the idea of the process.  You pull up in your golf cart and go through a buffet line (it’s burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches) and then you eat it in the cart and then tee off on the 1st hole.  Ideally at this point you’re at the half-way point of your day.  I usually take this brief break to pop a couple more ibuprofen.

They do have beverage stations and beverage carts (and a couple washrooms that are nicer than a port-o-let) going around the course so staying hydrated isn’t an issue (nor is having to pee), however there’s no beer until you’re done for the day so if you were wanting the revival that can only come from shotgunning some terrible American piss-water lager, you’ll have to wait until you finish for the day unless you have any airplane bottles stashed in your bag.

Of the three rounds, I’ve always felt that the last 9 holes of the second round is the hardest.  It’s in the heat of the day, and you’re starting to get fatigued and you’ve still got 19-27 holes left to play.  Both times I’ve played I’ve carded some scary numbers.  It’s also where you can struggle in terms of mental concentration; the first round might feel like a regular round, but most people who play 36 will stop for lunch before going back out.  Now you’re 28-36 holes into the day, and fatigue can be a factor.

The third round is hopefully when your second (or third) wind kicks in.  They do move the tees up for the third round so that long par 4 you’ve seen twice previously becomes a bit shorter.  You’ve got the hole locations down (hopefully) and hopefully by now you’ve got a good feel for the break of the greens.  Hopefully your muscles aren’t sore at this point, because while the tee boxes are moved up (the equivalent of going from the blue tees to the white tees at most courses), by now it’s afternoon and the shadows are starting to get a bit longer.

This is where I’d pop a couple more Ibuprofen and try to maintain focus and maybe have one of those energy shot drinks if I was feeling a bit sluggish.  When you hear touring pros talk about the mental concentration factor, this is what they mean.  You’ve held it together for 36 holes, and you’ve got one more round to go.  Sure- you know the course but you’ve got to focus amid some possible physical fatigue to keep making good swings for one more round.  At a minimum, you’ve got to keep from having a blow-up hole (and being someone who has turned the blow-up hole into an art form I speak from experience) which means no 3 putts and trying to keep it somewhat straight off the tee.

At some point late in the day, as the sun is setting you’re going to putt out on that 54th hole of the day, and you’re going to feel an odd mix of excitement, fatigue, and maybe (just maybe) accomplishment.  That you pushed yourself to the limit on one of the longest days of the year and played 14-15 hours of non-stop golf.

After that, it’s a cart ride back to the club house to sign your scorecards, and enjoy some well-deserved 55th hole refreshments.  At some point you’re probably changing shoes (and hopefully socks) which is going to feel oddly refreshing.  You’ll have a buffet dinner, and while you’re eating the Golfstyles staff will have tabulated things up, award prizes for low gross and low net scores, and after (hopefully) a bit of regaling one another with stories about the day, you’ll load your clubs back in the car (likely in the dark by now), and head home, where the rest of the world will surely be waiting.

If you’re a little bit sore the next morning (or a lot), it’s okay, because you’re sore from doing something we all love, and that’s the best kind of soreness there is.

WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU (this list is hardly complete but it’s a few things that will make that longest day of golf a bit more bearable:

-Plenty of balls.  Think about your typical usage during a round.  Triple it and add an extra sleeve just in case.

-Sunscreen. Apply before you start and re-apply mid-day.  Trust me.

-Bug spray. See above.

-Extra socks, extra pair of shoes, extra hat, extra golf shirt (if it’s supposed to be dry you probably don’t need the extra pair of shoes or shirt but a lot of people like to change socks and/or shirt after a round or two).

-A comfortable golf shirt.  For me this means something that’s a bit looser since the fitted look on me means something resembling a sausage casing.

-Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or your OTC pain reliever of choice.   Don’t overdo it but a couple ibuprofen can help.

-Extra glove or two (and if rain is in the forecast rain gloves, umbrella, and rain jacket).

-Sharpie pen (to mark your balls if you haven’t already done so).

-Ziploc bag (in case of wet weather it protects the scorecard).

-First aid kit (hopefully you don’t need it but it’s better to be safe than sorry).

-Your sense of humor.  It’s going to be a long day.  I played with a dour, humorless dolt one year.  Don’t be that guy.  We’re not playing for a million bucks and we’re paying to be here.  It beats working.  Enjoy the day.

-A rangefinder (if they’re permissible- ask them).  Many golfers have the GPS watches.  If they’re allowed and you have one, by all means wear it.

-Patience.  The course will be full with your fellow competitors and it’s a shotgun start.  Since it’s a count-everything event pace of play isn’t going to be lightning fast.  Where possible try to play ready golf (within the rules); i.e. if you need to pee either tee off first or last.

-A USGA rulebook.  If you’re not sure about an issue, play two balls, record both scores and have the Golfstyles folks settle it.