TORONTO — Canadians deprived of a white Christmas this year have the option to celebrate on the greens instead.
Balmy breezes and soaring temperatures across parts of central and eastern Canada have prompted some golf courses to stay open throughout the holiday.
Based on early bookings, Canadians are planning to take advantage, viewing a December day on the links as a rare opportunity and an early Christmas gift.
Golf courses planning to stay open through the festive season report that they're fully booked and even have long waiting lists in place for Christmas Eve, normally a day when the greens are long out of commission.
El Nino conditions are causing unusually high temperatures on the East Coast while western regions are largely blanketed in snow.
Christmas forecasts in Montreal usually herald temperatures well below the freezing mark, but the current trend has turned that tradition on its head.
Environment Canada is calling for a daytime high of 16C on Christmas Eve, temperatures that at least one golf club supervisor cannot recall seeing for years.
Alain Beland of the Centre de Golf le Versant in nearby Terrebonne, Que., said the spring-like conditions are bringing people to the course in droves, adding there's already a waiting list of 40 people hoping to tee off on Christmas Eve.
Even staff now scheduled to work unanticipated Christmas Day shifts don't seem to mind, he said, adding that Wednesday's forecast high of 7C hadn't stopped people from snapping up most available bookings.
"It's a little bit cloudy around, but everybody's happy," Beland said of the unseasonable conditions. "Everybody's talking about playing golf in December."
Matt Duench of Waterloo, Ont. has been energized by the exciting possibility of a yuletide golf game.
The 36-year-old marketing professional said he's in the process of rearranging his Christmas Eve schedule to allow him to both fulfil holiday family obligations and get some time in with friends on his local golf course.
Duench said his normal enthusiasm for the game is enhanced by the novelty of playing a summer sport in what would normally be the dead of winter. Thursday's projected high of 11C in Waterloo certainly isn't conducive to his normal cold-weather pursuit — snowboarding.
"Just a few weeks ago I kind of made the choice, begrudgingly, to swap out my golf clubs in my trunk for my snowboard," he said. "I've kind of been thinking that maybe I should go back the other way and put my clubs back."
North Americans across the continent are getting accustomed to sharp reversals in their ordinary weather patterns.
Ski resorts on the West Coast, where slopes have been nearly barren of snow for the past two years, have found themselves on the receiving end this year of significant snowfalls that have created ideal conditions. Multiple resorts in Western Canada have reported a noticeable uptick in visitors and are projecting more steady traffic throughout the holidays.
The same trend is at work in the United States.
In a reversal of a typical Christmas, forecasters expect temperatures in New York to top 15C on the holiday — several degrees higher than forecast conditions in Los Angeles.
Southerners in large parts of typically temperate Louisiana and Arkansas awoke Wednesday to tornado watches two days before Christmas.
Duench, for one, is happy to treat the winter reprieve as a holiday gift from Mother Nature.
Based on booking numbers at the Lionhead Golf Course in Brampton, Ont., he's not alone.
Associate golf professional Trevor Brodie said about 230 people have already scheduled tee-off times for Christmas Eve, adding he fully expects the remaining handful of spots to be snapped up by day's end on Wednesday.
Golfers won't be the only ones feeling festive cheer, he added.
"This is very rare for our industry, that's for sure," he said. "A lot of superintendants are very happy about this as well, too."
People hoping to get in a game on Christmas Day are out of luck, however, as Lionhead will be closed to allow staff some holiday time.
— With files from the Associated Press
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Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press