The grass has just barely begun turning green for the first time in months, birds have just recently returned from places south and the agony of hay fever is in the air . . . all of which means it must be time for people in polyester slacks and spiked shoes to start swinging metal sticks and chasing tiny white (or yellow or orange) balls over miles of land, for hours on end.

Yes folks, it's golf season.As long as there isn't any snow on the ground, golfers will be out on the links in the springtime swinging and chasing, swinging and chasing.

It may be 75 degrees and sunny one day, 35 and rainy the next, but once golf season hits, nothing stops the serious golfer.

Sometimes even snow, which hits sometime every April or May, won't stop the fanatics.

"Golf is just booming all over," said Utah Golf Association executive director Mark Passey.

"We've never had as much interest in the game."

According to Passey, upwards of 20,000 golfers should join the UGA and purchase handicap cards this year.

Last year, there were a record 18,000, and the UGA has a goal of 22,000 members this year.

Thousands more don't purchase handicap cards, but play just for the fun of it, maybe three or four times a month.

The big problem locally is a shortage of golf courses.

It's becoming harder and harder to accomodate the growing number of golfers in the area.

Most of the courses in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County are crowded every day of the week during the spring and summer.

Still, golfers can find a few courses uncrowded during the week, less than an hour from downtown Salt Lake. Courses such as Stansbury Park and Oquirrh Hills in Tooele, Tri-City in American Fork, Spanish Oaks in Spanish Fork, Glenmoor in South Jordan and the University of Utah often have gaps in the day where it's fairly easy to get on and play with a minimal amount of waiting.

Tournaments are a big part of the local golf scene, ranging from Opens for the 150 professionals in the state down to amateurs for the average hacker.

The tournament which draws more interest than any other event in the state is the Showdown Classic, featuring stars of the Senior PGA Tour.

The Showdown has the same old setting Jeremy Ranch but a new time slot. The tourney is scheduled for right smack dab in the middle of the summer, the week of July 11-17, rather than the late August date of previous years.

Several big-name seniors have already made committments to play and by mid-July most of the top seniors should be at Jeremy Ranch.

The University Hospital-Utah Open will be at the usual time and place, played Aug. 17-21 at Willow Creek.

Once again it will be a $100,000 affair with a few PGA Tour pros, several TPA pros and most of the top pros from the Intermountain region.

This year, there are more Opens than ever, with tournaments scheduled nearly every week from early May through the Utah Open in August.

The tournaments include the Spanish Oaks Open, the Tri-City Open, the Provo Open, the Roosevelt Open, the Wasatch Mountain Open, the PGA Match Play, the Brigham City Open, the Sizzler Open, the Black Diamond Open, the Herald-Journal Open, the State Best Ball Open and the City Parks Open, along with the Utah PGA Championship, the Peppermill Open and the Dixie Red Hills Open later on.

On the amateur circuit, golfers have dozens of tournaments to choose from from now until October with the State Amateur, July 6-10 at Oakridge Country Club leading the list. There are also several tournaments just for women and junior golfers.

In the last three years, the number of tournaments on the UGA Tournament schedule has grown by 100 events to 244. Many of the new events are scrambles or best balls and many new events are at courses away from the Salt Lake area.

It doesn't matter how good you are, as long as you have a handicap card, you can compete.

Otherwise, just tee it up and go out and play for the pure enjoyment of it.