Even if you are not lucky enough to live in place blessed with a 12-month golf season, you can still get more golf out of your year (as long as you're willing to make a few concessions to Mother Nature). As JP recently pointed out, many of us in the northern half of the northern hemisphere are facing another winter with less golf than we can enjoy in the summer. Here in Ohio, we are currently enjoying bonus rounds (in shorts!) at the moment, but Old Man Winter will surely rear his ugly head at some point.
When the cold does arrive, we have two choices. One: shut it down altogether and wait for spring. Two: rage against the dying of the light and take all steps necessary to enjoy the game whenever the weather gives us even a small opening. As for me, I like to stretch out the season as much as possible. Sure, this leads to some cold rounds, but you haven't lived until you've bounced a golf ball off a frozen lake onto a green that consists of a half-inch of soggy, fresh-thawed turf covering a layer of ice.
I'm lucky enough that I don't live in an area that gets frequent heavy snows. In central Ohio, we get some 50° days thrown in here and there even in January and February, and once in a while the stars align and we get a premature 65-70° day. I used to put the clubs away after October and only brought them out on those fluke days or April 1st, but the last few years, I've managed to get quite a few rounds in during winter. In 2006, I played at least once in Ohio during every month of the year (2007, however, kept us indoors from early January until mid-March).
Fluke days aside, if you're going to play during the winter, you're going to encounter some less than ideal conditions. My general criteria are that: it's not raining too hard, there's not too much snow on the ground, the temperature is above freezing (at least a degree), and the wind doesn't instantly freeze your nose. Actually, I've broken all of these on at least one occasion, and any winter day when the sun is shining can really make a difference in the amount of wind, chill, or depth of snow I'll put up with.
If you really want to extend your golf season, here are a few common sense tips and a few items you'll want to have with you to help you tolerate the cold and elements.
Number Five: Put Something on Your Head!
You can lose 30% or more of your body heat through your head. Between 13% and 16% of the body's blood volume is in the head at any given time, which basically means your body can work like your car's radiator. But in the cold, you're losing heat you need, not getting rid of excess. So you need a hat, and you need to cover your ears, as well. Nothing will chase you off the course as fast as a couple of half-frozen lobes.
Any old stocking cap is always a good option. But if you're like me, golf doesn't quite feel right without a baseball-style cap. So this winter, I'm going to try out one of these.
Number Four: Layers Start Here
Winter is all about layering. You need to stay reasonably warm without sweating. If you sweat and the wind picks up or the sun goes behind a cloud or the temperature drops, you'll find yourself suddenly very cold, indeed. You need to shed layers when you're too warm and add them when you're too cold. Layering begins with a good base layer.
The most valuable garment (MVG) of winter golf is probably the turtleneck, but not just any old turtleneck will do. If turtlenecks make you feel like you're being choked, go with a crew neck, but that's one more bit of skin exposed to the cold.
I used to scoff at those expensive winter shirts that were emerging for skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts. And I can't stand Ray Lewis (due in part to being a long-suffering Browns fan), but I broke down last year and bought an Under Armour Coldgear mockneck, and it really does make a difference. If you don't like the extremely tight feel of the UA stuff, you can also find similar hi-tech shirts from Mizuno, FootJoy, and others that will keep you warm without showing off every ripple (or bulge) of your belly (then again, you'll probably have another layer on, so it may not matter).
From here, you can add a thin sweater or wind vest. I find that I play better if I keep bulk off my arms, so I usually go with a vest if I need some extra warmth.
For golf, thin fabics are best. Bulky coats or sweaters tend to get in the way of the swing. If you're just using a good warm base layer and a regular old windshirt, you can play in reasonably cool weather (say, 45-50°). When it really gets cold though, you need something like the Sunice Tornado Soft Shell I picked up last year. I can wear this jacket with just a base layer on most days, even when the temperature gets down in the 30s.
Another great way to stay warm is to wear your rain suit over a base layer and windshirt (or vest). Rain suits are windproof as well as water proof. They will help keep the heat in and the winter out. I often play in my rain pants during the winter to fight the wind or to simply prevent the mud spatter of each shot from soaking my pants through.
Number Three: Warm Feet and Hands Are Happy Feet and Hands
First and foremost, make sure you have good winter socks. Something that wicks away moisture while holding in heat is optimal. There are lots of great hiking socks that do just this. They don't look all that much like golf socks, but you're likely going to have your rain pants on anyway.
Second, you have to keep your hands warmish, at least. They're your connection to the club and you won't get much out of your round with cold hands.
That's a problem for me because I can't stand "winter" gloves. They just add too much thickness in my grip. I'll occasionally play with a rain glove on my right hand (and a regular glove on my left) if it's really cold, but I'd much rather play with just the regular glove.
That said, the technology in winter gloves keeps getting better and one of these years I'm sure they'll be thin enough for me. So give them a try in a golf store and see what you think.
So, what do I do to keep my hands warm. Well, cart mitts are always good in between shots, and Titleist and others have these cuffs that pull down over your hands in between shots and push up onto your forearms when you need to play. They add some bulk, but they can help keep your digits from freezing up.
Whether you use cart mitts or not, the best little trick for winter is to buy a pair of Hot Hands (or a similar product) for each round and either keep them in your mitts or put them in your pockets (where they'll also help keep your, um, upper legs warm.
Number Two: Walk
Sure, you can go with one of those dorkey "Cart Condoms" and a cart heater, but you still have to get out of your little sanctuary to play your ball. To me, it's much less comfortable in the long run to keep going from warm to cold to warm to cold. Nope, I'd rather just stay out there and get used to it. It's surprising how you'll acclimate to the cold. Plus you'll be getting exercise, which we tend to get less of in the winter.
Number One: There's Always Florida
Let's face it, playing during the winter isn't like summer golf. Sure, you can play something resembling your golf game, but it won't be the same game you play in the summer. Winter golf is often a muddy affair, and you'll probably be taking two or three clubs more than you would for the same distance in August. And if your courses are like the ones around me, Canada geese spend all winter fertilizing fairway, rough, and green alike. Lovely!
No, there's only one way for those of us trapped in winter's grip to get a really good round of golf in: a trip south to Florida or Arizona or St. Somewhere Warm. A week or even a long weekend on some southern courses can do wonders for your winter blues. Best of all, if you're willing to roll the dice a little, you can get great rates in Myrtle Beach and other locations where the temperature might be warm compared to home, even though the locals wouldn't play in those frigid 50s and 60s.
One way or another, get out and play! At least visit a heated range (it worked for Steve Stricker) or a golf dome and work on your game so you're ready to go when the courses finally thaw. Even swinging a club indoors all winter can pay dividends when April and May roll around&ellip; just watch out for the breakables, like the TV or the cat.
Photo Credits: © Country Air Golf.