MATTOON -- A total of 11 golfers braved subzero weather to play on Monday in the annual Frozen Open, a New Year's Day tradition at Rogala Public Links in Mattoon.
Veteran Frozen Open golfer Tim Uskali, a Mattoon native who now resides in St. Joseph, and his neighbor Chad Myren were the first players out on the snow covered, wind swept course that morning. Uskali, who has played in nearly every Frozen Open since the early 1990s, said he always likes to get an early start before the other golfers take the course.
"We are pretty quick golfers and we don't like getting slowed down, especially on days like today," Myren said after completing nine rounds of golf in weather that was already below zero without the wind chill.
Myren and Uskali both said they prefer to play on the snow before it has been tracked up by other golfers so they have an easier time finding their fluorescent colored golf balls. Nevertheless, Myren said rabbits had left tracks Monday morning that looked confusingly like the skid marks of a golf ball.
Uskali said he always returns to Rogala and to the Frozen Open, despite the challenge of keeping his hands warm while golfing, because this was the home course of his mother, Helen Uskali, and because he has a long history there too.
"This is where I started playing golf. The Meakers, I have always been fond of them," Uskali said of the family who owns and operates Rogala.
Golfer Jim Arthur of Mattoon said he plays in the Frozen Open every year because it is a tradition for him and it is his first chance to play golf in the new year. Arthur said, while wearing his coveralls on the course, that the keys to playing in the winter are to keep moving, to wear plenty of layers of clothing, and to use hand warmers.
"We had 11 brave golfers play the Frozen Open. The winner was Tim Uskali with a 38 and second place was Pete Livingston with a 40. Even though it was a bitter cold day, the golfers seem to enjoy it," said owner Donna Meaker after the tournament.
Donna Meaker said the weather was 12 below zero at 7 a.m. Monday. Her son Joe Meaker, who is Rogala's superintendent, noted that temperatures had warmed to 8 below around the time that golfers started taking the course.
Joe Meaker used his jeep to drive out on the snowy course and make sure that the golfers were all right. Before the Frozen Open started, he placed orange traffic cones on the holes and painted orange circles around them on the snow.
"That helps speed up play so they are not out there as long. They don't have to worry about putting," Joe Meaker said.
Inside Rogala's warm clubhouse, the Meaker family socialized with golfers before and after they played. Joe Meaker said he enjoys visiting with old friends every year at the Frozen Open, a winter tradition that his father started at Rogala after taking ownership there in 1974. Donna Meaker said they also have a long tradition of serving up hot bowls of chili during the Frozen Open to help the golfers warm up on a cold day.
"Some people just come out to have a bowl of chili," Donna Meaker said.