The azaleas are blooming, the pollen is floating in the air and the golf bug has sunk its stinger.
Devoted area golfers have endured a harsh winter. The hardiest of players have played in wet conditions, sometimes with temperatures that struggled to reach 40 degrees.
But the hackers have waited. They've waited to see the Masters on television, they've waited for temperatures to rise above 75 degrees for a day or two, and they're ready to play.
Even with a short cold spell early this week, the unoffical golf season began this past weekend with the Masters and Bubba Watson earning the green jacket with an impressive display of power and precision.
The recreational golf season has arrived as well, and golfers across the area are retrieving their clubs from winter storage. A handful of area professionals in the game have advice for those who are dusting off clubs.
"Stretch," said Nob North head professional Eric Hester. "Stretching is super-important. You can pull muscles so easily.
"It happens more than you think: A lot of people pull a back or side muscles after not stretching."
So take it easy the first time out -- whether it's hitting aa bucket of balls or playing nine or 18 holes. Easy does it.
Better scores will come with more practice, said John White, who owns the Golf Performance Center a 9-iron shot away from East Brainerd Road.
"First and foremost is to practice and work on your game, because most folks don't get a chance to practice in the winter," White said. "Spending time hitting balls, working on the short game is important.
"Golf is harsh. You're not going to have the same scores that you did at the end of last season right out of the chute this season."
Muscle memory is gone. Touch around the greens has departed. Swings are shaky and putting strokes are wobbly. That's all understandable for this time of year. Only practice can get that back.
But before practicing, White and PGA of America professionals said, it's important to take inventory of one's golf bag.
"They need to make sure they have balls, tees and gloves," Hester said. "Oh, and make sure all the clubs are there."
White advised checking the grips on all clubs, double-checking the loft and lie on all irons and confirming that the angle of a putter hasn't changed from either use or storage.
"It's just like maintenance on your car," White said. "If you care about the way you play the game, then you need to invest that time in your clubs."
Area superintendents have advice as well, ranging from picking up the pace of play to helping them take care of the living grass beneath a golfer's feet.
"We want golfers to respect the players behind them," said Council Fire Golf Club superintendent Gary Weller. "As a super, we'd like everybody to fix ball marks on the greens and rake the bunkers. If you fix a ball mark properly, it will heal faster than if it's not fixed."
Weller's advice for fixing marks is to use a tee or a tool and pull everything into the middle and tap it down.
"Don't go down and pull up," he said. "Respect the course and pay attention to the rules.
"And have fun. It's a game."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...