Playing links golf here in Ireland certainly has its advantages during the winter. Rain tends to run through the sandy soil, so unless there has been a deluge or a sustained period of rain during the preceding week the course is almost always open. The enemy is snow and ice. Luckily, in Ireland, that’s not something we face too often. We generally only get a few weeks over the winter where the course is closed or we are playing on winter greens.
That being said, I have played in snow. I’ve also played in heavy rain and 40 mph winds. I’ve played when the ground is frozen and watched in horror as my ball has bounced 20 feet high when it pitched on the green. I’ve played when my hands can’t feel the club, with water dripping down off my cap brim while trying to putt. I’ve had to climb into a bunker to take refuge from a hail storm, watching and wondering as hailstones came down the size of peas. But it’s never got to a point where I don’t want to be on the course. You can call me crazy, but I just say I’m a golfer.
From my understanding, Americans see the tournaments late in the season, like the Ryder Cup, as their cue to put the clubs away for the winter, and not touch them again until the spring. Foolishness, I say. If the course is open and without inches of snow accumulation, golf can be played.
With my expert — yes, being Irish does in fact make me a poor-weather expert — tips and guidelines below, you won’t need to pack away your clubs for the winter.
Invest in good clothing and layer up.
It goes without saying, to stay warm and dry, serious golfers need to wear the right gear. A quality rain suit and good waterproof shoes are a must. Sure, they cost more money, but they’re worth it for winter play and last a long time with proper care. Wearing a number of light layers provides better insulation, and leaves you flexible to take off or add a layer depending on changing conditions. As the GolfWRX Staff noted in its 2016 Fall Outerwear Top Picks piece, a long-sleeve compression shirt designed for cold is a great start. Mittens, rain gloves and a good hat are also essential purchases as well.
Take an extra club
Chances are your winter golf will be played in lower temperatures than normal, which means the ball is not going to fly as far, nor run as far on damper/softer fairways. Also wearing more layers will tend to restrict your swing a little. So accept the fact that you need to drop down a club or two.
The umbrella question
In terms of an umbrella, I for one don’t like to use one. It’s the putting it up, taking it down, angling it against the wind etc., that puts me off. I carry one, but unless it is really tipping it down my umbrella generally stays in the bag. Plus if you dress appropriately, you really don’t need one.
The hip flask
An emergency hip flask is a useful item to have on a cold day. Generally it should be filled with some sort of “fire water,” primarily for medicinal use, of course. It’s a sure cure for stinging, pseudo frost-bitten hands resulting from a thinned shot. If you’re not into the stronger stuff, a hot drink also works. Tea, coffee, soup or even hot diluted juice only requires a flask and a bit of foresight. The heat provides a welcomed warming during the round.
Keeping the limbs moving between shots is a wise idea. I’m not talking about a full aerobic workout, but certainly a few star jumps and shaking of the hands will keep the blood pumping and keep you warm, especially when you are waiting to play. Keeping the hands warm is essential. So keep them in mittens or in your pockets as much as possible.
Drying out everything after a round is important prep for your next round. Some folks dump their stuff in the trunk straight after a round. It your gear is wet, this is an immediate red flag. Take it home, lay it all out to dry and it’s ready to go for the next time. Nothing worse than taking out the clubs from the trunk to discover your gear is still wet: mold, rust and smells quickly appear. Yes, it takes another 10 minutes to lay the stuff out in your garage/utility room/shed, but it’s worth it.
A good attitude
Finally, having a good attitude is a secret weapon to winter golf. Even though it’s a bit cold and wet, remember just being out on the links at all is a bonus. The alternatives of yard work, DIY projects, shopping or cabin fever should be enough to keep you grateful. Ok, so it’s a bit wet and muddy, your hands are cold and the light is fading. Occasionally, a ball will disappear as it plugs in the fairway. Hey, that’s winter golf! Accept it’s not perfect conditions and move on.