In a perfect world, golf would be played on finely manicured turf under a retractable roof where the temperature is always a cool 74 degrees. Of course, a golf club like that would cost about a billion dollars to build and green fees would be through the roof (no pun intended).
In the real world, golf is played outdoors in the elements. And right now in Tampa Bay, those elements are brutal. Local golf course operators are seeing a reduction in play, especially during the mid-afternoon hours. With at least another month of hot and humid conditions, it's not going to get any better.
But there are ways to beat the heat and stay on the golf course until the weather finally breaks.
Dr. Carlos Rodriguez is the director of the sports medicine fellowship at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. He has served as a team physician for various local sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays, USF and Tampa Bay Storm.
Rodriguez is also an avid golfer. He offered tips for golfers to stay safe during this particularly brutal summer:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Don't come to the golf course with an empty tank. Come hydrated and stay that way.
Rodriguez: "You want to pre-hydrate, so drink plenty of fluids before you go out to play. Secondly, you want to stay hydrated while you're playing. This means drinking two to four glasses of water per hour.
"If you start off dehydrated then you are behind the eight-ball. You not only have to hydrate for the fluids you are going to be losing, but you also have to replenish the fluids you've already lost. Make sure you are hydrated before you start.''
Keep your cool: Wear the right clothes, stay out of the sun when possible and save the fizzy drinks for the clubhouse.
Rodriguez: "I would recommend wearing light colored, loose fitting clothing. Spend some time in the shade. When somebody in your group is hitting the ball, step into the shade. You can also put a cold towel around your neck to keep the body cooled down.
"Another important thing is to avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages. Those work as diuretics, or water releasing agents. You actually tend to lose more fluids if you drink alcohol or caffeine while playing.''
Go early or go late: When you play matters.
Rodriguez: "The best time to play is early morning or evening hours. Those are the cooler times of the day. One of the things to watch for is the heat index. That takes into account wind, humidity and temperature. If that's above 90 it's recommended to stay indoors.''
Pace yourself: You do not run while playing golf, and in most cases you are using a cart. But it can still be physically exhausting in the hot months.
Rodriguez: "You have to realize that in golf you are out there for three to four hours per round. And you actually are exerting yourself. You're swinging the club, walking around, and generating body heat. Then in the summer you are exposed to the heat index above 90 degrees for maybe four hours. It's good to take a break. After nine holes, spend some time cooling down, maybe have some lunch, then go out for the back nine.''
Heed the warnings: If you start feeling a little off, take action.
Rodriguez: "It could start with something like muscle cramps. That may proceed to your body temperature going up. You may feel red, or flushed. You may start feeling dizzy or have a headache. Your heart may start beating really fast and your breathing rate will increase. Those are signs of heat exhaustion. The danger is if you don't pay attention to those symptoms then you could move to heat stroke. That means you get disoriented, you lose consciousness, you get confused and your skin gets red hot and dry.''
Age matters: Be smart, especially if you're young or old.
Rodriguez: "People over the age of 65 and young people under 15, as well as anyone who may have some heart conditions, are at higher risk.''
Nine hole option
The best way to beat the heat on the golf course is to not play golf. But there wouldn't be many golf courses, or a golf page for that matter, if people didn't play golf. Local course operators are finding regulars like to play half as much during the summer, or nine holes instead of 18.
"It's been hotter than Hades lately,'' said Bruce Chaleff, head professional at Seminole Lake CC. "I haven't tracked it compared to other years, but we have many of our members only going nine holes to beat the weather, even in the mornings.''
Seminole Lake offers a nine-hole rate throughout the day. Some other area courses also offer nine-hole rates, while others only offer nine-hole play during twilight hours. Still other courses do not have a nine-hole option.
Even when golfers are only playing nine holes, they still aren't doing it in the middle of the day.
"It's been a very slow summer, due in part to the heat,'' Clearwater Country Club head professional Eric Lettie said. "We have activity until about 9:30 a.m., then it drops off.''
Playing nine holes is a good way to get acclimated to the heat before stretching out to 18 holes, said Rodriguez of Bayfront Medical Center.
"Instead of playing 18 holes, try to play nine,'' he said. "Do that on several occasions and your body acclimatizes to the weather. The body gets used to the heat and the rate of fluid loss. That makes it easier to play 18.''
Silverado Country Club head professional and general manager Sean Klotz did manage to find a silver lining in summer play.
"We are feeling the effects of summertime heat just like the rest of the other golf courses,'' Klotz said. "I've definitely seen an increase in nine-hole rounds. The only positive from summer rounds is that our pace of play goes under three and a half hours (for 18 holes). If we can only get the winter players to do that.''