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GOLF : Hot Links Fail to Quell Fervor of Faithful

Those wretched, rat-hot, brown-cloud days of summer have fallen upon us like Roseanne Barr from the 10-meter diving platform.

So what’s a person to do?

Well, thousands of people in the Valley take these opportunities to hoist a 45-pound bag onto their shoulders and spend the day under the frying sun playing the game of golf.

A game, you might want to note, that features strokes and sudden death.

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And people dare suggest golfers are a bit loony.

The health risks of playing golf in temperatures of 100-plus degrees and at the peak of first-stage smog alerts--conditions that have been common throughout the area since Monday--are quite real.

According to a spokeswoman for the Air Quality Management District, a combination of excessive heat and a first-stage smog alert--posted when the ozone level reaches 0.20 parts per million--combined with a normal level of outdoor exercise can cause the following ailments:

Coughing, wheezing, chest pains, lung damage, headache, nausea and reduced resistance to infection.

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And you thought yanking that four-foot putt 18 inches wide of the cup was your biggest problem.

At Knollwood Country Club in Granada Hills, golfers streamed across the layout at a steady pace this week, seemingly oblivious to the dangers. Gary Finneran, the club’s assistant manager and a teaching professional, said he just shakes his head in amazement as golfers stumble up the 18th fairway or along the ninth hole, which features a very steep hill for the last 150 yards.

“We call the ninth hole Cardiac Hill,” he said. “It’s brutal on a regular day. But on days like this, I can’t imagine how--or why--people do it. I spent eight hours outside Monday, just teaching on the range, not really getting much exercise, and I was really bothered by the heat and smog.

“You know, in elementary school they warn the kids when there’s a first-stage smog alert and they hardly let them step outside. But here, there’s no warning at all. People just go out on the course and play, a lot of them carrying heavy golf bags.”

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One who fit that description Tuesday was David Chow of Canoga Park. He teed off shortly before noon, carrying a red and white golf bag that was not as big as Rodney Dangerfield’s stereo-and-cocktail-lounge-equipped bag in the film “Caddyshack.”

But it was close.

“I like the heat,” Chow said. “And the smog doesn’t seem so bad today. To be honest, I didn’t think much about it until you asked. But I have this tee time with my usual group, and we’ll certainly play.”

More than two hours later, Chow and his three friends wobbled up Cardiac Hill. They paused for refreshments. Chow was tired.

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“It’s pretty rough out there,” he said. “We brought some water to drink, but it doesn’t seem to help.

“And my eyes hurt.”

At 4 p.m. the Chow foursome was finished.

And we mean finished.

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“I don’t think I’ll do this again on a day like today,” said Chow, sweating profusely and gulping water like a stray dog. The water was quickly followed by a gigantic glass of lemonade. “A few times I even felt dizzy. That was on the 16th or 15th hole, I think.”

If you have to play golf in such conditions, experts say that the simplest advice is still the best advice.

There is not, they caution, much you can do to neutralize the smog. A surgeon’s mask over the nose and mouth would help. Of course, such a device makes your frantic yelp of fore! very difficult for other golfers to hear and possibly could make it even more dangerous to be on the course.

So, if you are considering playing golf during the middle of the day any time soon, prepare yourself for a sore throat, stinging eyes, and, perhaps, chest pain.

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And have a nice day.

The heat, however, is a bit more beatable. Tops on the list of precautions, of course, is to drink plenty of liquid. And not beer. Alcohol dramatically increases the negative effects of heat. Water is best. Gulp it often. Carry a thermos of water and ice and refill it after nine holes. Keep it coming. You can’t drink enough of it.

Use water in other ways, also. Pour some over your head every few holes. If you keep your head cool, the body temperature won’t soar, either. And this is no time to worry about your appearance. If anyone asks, just tell them you’re playing in the Pat Riley Charity tournament.

And, whenever possible, stand in the shade. The unfortunate thing here is that the better you are at golf, the less likely that you will be anywhere near shade all day, what with hitting your ball down the middle of the fairway every time.

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Another tip: Rent a cart. There is no shame in riding in a golf cart during these days from hell. You will exert only a fraction of the energy spent walking, and the cart’s roof provides shade.

Unfortunately, you will have to get out of the cart on occasion to hit your golf ball. Unless you can park close and want to experiment with a short backswing.


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