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Timeless tips to beat the cold: The GolfWRX Guide to Winter Golf

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This story is part of our new “GolfWRX Guides,” a how-to series created by our Featured Writers and Contributors — passionate golfers and golf professionals in search of answers to golf’s most-asked questions.

It’s been said often, and rarely disputed, that a golfer will play through anything. Not even a downpour of biblical proportions immortalized in the movie Caddyshack can keep Bushwood’s resident bishop from squeezing in a quick nine.

So if you’re one of those golfers who is willing to venture outdoors when it’s cold and windy, on days that require running the defroster on high, here’s a GolfWRX Guide for extending golf into the winter season and enjoying it.

Before You Hit The Course

It’s safe to say that many golfers suffer from complacency. We have all found ourselves at times grabbing any old polo shirt out of the closet, flinging our golf bag into the trunk of our car, sprinting to the first tee, not bothering to hit a practice bucket. And in the summer — we can get away with it.

Winter, however, is harsh and uncompromising. But it doesn’t have to beat you up; all it takes is a little preparation, so let’s get started.

Golf isn’t always thought of as a physically demanding game, but it does take some flexibility and coordination, especially when it’s cold out. If you’re one of those weekend warriors who thinks a sit up is something you do when you’re relaxing on the couch, a little exercise can keep your game from going into hibernation. A good way of loosening up before your tee time is with a 20 to 30 minute warmup at home. Titlelist Performance Institute has developed a routine consisting of a series of flexion and extension exercises that hit all the major muscle groups involved with playing golf. The routine doesn’t require any special equipment and it’s easy enough to do, even for a person leading a sedentary lifestyle.*

Once your body is warmed up, it’s time to prep your golf bag. Make sure it’s stocked with extra tees, balls and towels. If this sounds like overkill — believe me — it’s not. Tees tend to snap more easily in the cold, balls always seem to find a pile of dead leaves to hide in and you’re always toweling off something — whether it’s a sand wedge caked with dirt or your nose dripping with snot. Don’t make a rookie mistake and use a single towel for both.

I also recommend bringing a golf bag hood to cover your clubs and an umbrella in case of precipitation. This is especially true if you happen to live in a traditionally wet corridor of the world such as the Pacific Northwest (West of the Cascades) where the average monthly rainfall is at its highest from November through March.

Lastly, don’t forget about snacks and water. You should be able to pick up these items at the course in case you forget, but never rely on a muni to maintain a half-way house in the middle of winter or expect to see beverage cart girls zig-zagging between fairways like they do in-season.

Of course any discussion about playing in cold weather has to mention apparel. The keys to dressing warm and staying dry? Layers and fabric. Look for clothes that you can easily coordinate without adding unnecessary bulk. When evaluating a garment, ask yourself — is it lightweight, breathable, water-repellent and / or wrinkle-resistant?

Here’s a simple cheat-sheet even the most fashion-impaired can follow:

  • When choosing socks, cotton is fine, wool is better. Pick a pair that are a decent length. I prefer wearing compression socks — they’re great for keeping your calves warm and help with reducing lactic acid buildup in your legs the following day.
  • Except when it’s mild out, I strongly advise wearing a base layer consisting of a compression shirt and pants. Almost any sporting apparel company worth their ilk produces a decent product, but I personally like Under Armor’s form-fitting ColdGear collection for retaining body heat.
  • For shirts, any type of technical fabric that wicks is fine. Some golfers enjoy wearing shirts that sport a heavier weave in winter such as pima cotton or a poly-cotton blend. In terms of pants, you’ll need pair that are waterproof and windproof for really lousy weather; on better days you can’t do much better than with Maide’s Highland Pant which earns high marks for its traditional style and great fit.
  • Keep it simple with knits; stick to classic colors and silhouettes that can be worn on and off the course. The chunky and often-times scratchy sweaters of your father’s generation have been replaced with lightweight knitwear made from performance wool fabrics that don’t get in the way of your golf swing.

Depending on what you have on and the conditions you might encounter while golfing, you may want to bring a jacket or pullover that you can easily put on or take off as needed. Make sure you buy something wrinkle-free that you can fold up and shove into your golf bag. As far as footwear, it goes without saying that you should wear something water-proof.

When it comes to accessories, keep it simple. A warm hat, a stick of lip balm to carry in your pocket and a solid pair of gloves. FootJoy sells one of the best rain gloves in the industry and a pair of DryJoys Cart Mitts are easy to slip on and off between shots (in frigid conditions). On sunny days, remember to wear sunglasses. Too many people still think that temperature affects the intensity of UV radiation when in fact it doesn’t. Exposure to the sun’s rays can be just as damaging in the winter as it is in the summer.

At The Golf Course

So you’re all bundled up like Hagrid in Harry Potter and you even managed to arrive to the club with plenty of time to spare. But from the moment you shut off your car’s engine and feel that first blast of cold air, you briefly consider putting your car in reverse and heading home.

If you’re expecting to hear some irrefutable advice that will help you conquer the cold and save you strokes playing on a surface hardly more forgiving than concrete, I’m sorry to say you’ve come to the wrong place. Bad shots and bad weather are made for each other. We’ve all experienced the thin shot that stings your hands, the skulled chip from a bare lie, the long approach that comes up well short, maybe even the dreaded shank. And if you happen to be playing in the rain, well, that’s a whole other level of suck.

That being said, attitude plays a crucial role in determining how you cope with the elements and your mental state. You’ll have a much better time out there if you come prepared with a game plan and set your expectations accordingly.

Martin Kaymer at the WGC-Match Play Championship

Use the extra time you have before your round begins to hit some balls on the range. Your goal here, as it should be at any time of year, is to establish a rhythm and a feel. Don’t allow yourself to be preoccupied with distance or direction; after all, you’re hitting frozen golf balls off a more frozen mat. If you have time to spare, drop a few balls down randomly just off the putting green and practice your chipping. Your ability to recover from a bunch of less-than-stellar shots short of the green might be the difference between playing for keeps or just playing to keep warm.

When it’s time to tee off, always elect to walk the course if the opportunity presents itself. Golfers who keep their bodies moving between shots are less likely to feel cold and stiff. With any luck, the course will be half empty allowing you to play 18 holes at a brisk pace. 
Even More Tips For Winter

While it’s possible to post a good score in the winter, don’t be obsessed with grinding out a low number. In fact, forget stroke play altogether — give alternative formats like match play, best ball or Stableford a chance. You might find that these games give your weekend matches some much-needed zip in the off-season. It might even encourage some of your less courageous golf buddies to get off the couch and join you. 

As for my actual advice on play, let common sense prevail: Move up a set of tees, club up in cold weather, learn to hit a punch shot and always keep your primary golf ball as warm as you can between shots.

When your round is over, hurry the hell up and get warm. If you’re not accustomed to grabbing a meal or a drink at the club’s grill room, make an exception. There’s nothing better than sharing a table with good company, eating a burger hot off the grill and poking fun at all those unfortunate souls who won’t celebrate making a birdie till Spring.

*Disclaimer: Always gain clearance for your training from a doctor or well-qualified exercise professional before commencement of an exercise regime.

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Pingback: Grinding Through Cold Weather Golf with Rusty Cage’s Guide to Beat the Cold – Game Golf

  2. Pingback: Winter is over, let’s get back to golf

  3. Pingback: Winter Golf: Tips To Beat The Cold | Rusty Cage | Writer and Golfer

  4. Pingback: Winter Golf: Timeless Tips To Beat The Cold | Rusty Cage | Writer and Golfer

  5. Pingback: Winter Is Coming: Timeless Tips To Beat The Cold | Rusty Cage | Writer and Golfer

  6. Pingback: bump & run chat | snow golf: where to play and tips for the cold

  7. Dan

    Dec 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I live in MIchigan and have found that flannel jeans are a great way to go. Try Land End or Eddie Bauer.
    I’ll be out again tomorrow…. December 26.

  8. Pingback: Wailing At Wintry Woes - The Golf Shop Online Blog

  9. Mark Davis

    Nov 10, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Perhaps most importantly, have fun playing all bundled up! (I’m not talking about windproofs here… I’m talking about playing on those odd sunny days up north when when all the hazards are frozen over (rub of the frozen green, I guess) and you don’t need headcovers to do the “headcovers under the arms” drill.

    Get out, warm up really well, get some legwork in and bash the bloody ball around. A few solitary hours to think about important stuff whilst doing what you love. (If you bring a group, there’s bound to be a whiner, ruin the whole experience which is difficult enough to begin with.) Big fun, can’t learn anything (except which booze to bring next time and which Kleenex are the softest), defy the gods and play through despite. Oh, and thanks for the flask info. Essential stuff.

    And keep an eye on those airfare sales to Florida or wherever.

    God love the Northern Golfer.

  10. Mudder

    Nov 10, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I prefer rain pants over regular pants to stay warm as well as dry. So long as you’re not wearing heavy denims underneath it works pretty well without restricting your swing. The bonus is that you can take off the rain pants when you go into the clubhouse and look normal without having mud on your pants.

  11. Double Mocha Man

    Nov 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Winter golf is the solution to slow play! It’s too cold for the golfers in front of you to play at a summer’s snail’s pace, if they’re even there. And it’s too cold for the summer slowpokes to even be on the course. But yes, it’s never too cold for that flask.

  12. gvogel

    Nov 10, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Patagonia makes a synthetic puff pullover that is very warm.

    Keep a couple of extra balls in your pocket, and put a warm one in play on every tee by rotating them.

    Walk and carry 8 or 9 clubs.

  13. MikeOZ

    Nov 9, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Move to a warmer climate, then you can play all year round!

  14. Johnny

    Nov 9, 2014 at 3:25 am

    What’s the problem with leaving your clubs in the garage over winter? Would be good to know since mine live in the garage all year round

  15. Chris C

    Nov 8, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    I strongly recommend an electric vest.

  16. Jason

    Nov 8, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Decent article. But, no mention of a cart cover, hand warmers, extra propane, etc? Bringing a heater without a cart cover is insane!

  17. davepelz4

    Nov 7, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Sun Mountain makes a microweight shell that you can wear that will not constrict in the least and also conserves body temp. if you need to add a layer, add this.

  18. other paul

    Nov 7, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    I recommend hitting 30-50 balls a day in the garage into a net. It is helping my ball striking so much that I make keep the net up and do it all year! I play Vgolf in the winter a few times a month and my scores are usually 2-3 strokes better then on course. I just put in two rounds of 75 and an even par on 9. I actually hit more balls last month then in August and September combined and my game is improving so fast. Picked up a couple miles an hour of club head speed to.

    • bradford

      Nov 21, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      Careful, the simulators favor a very particular swing that will destroy your game on soft ground.

  19. Titleistfan

    Nov 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    No mention of best type of head gear plus I want that Kaymer mouth scarf (anyone know what it is?)

    Windproof jersey and pants essential as is a goretex beanie hat

  20. Mike

    Nov 7, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Nice article,
    Try this, stay home shut it down for the winter and take a break most are not going to play ny the rule and cheat since the conditions are not season ready.

  21. Mike Belkin

    Nov 7, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    A flask and a good match are my essentials for a winter round in New England

  22. Ponjo

    Nov 7, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Try some hand warmers called Hot Rox.

  23. nikkyd

    Nov 7, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Hard to do where i am. Greens are tarped for the winter 🙁 its hard to get backspin on a ball in 30 inches of snow anyways. Hey, whats it like putting on those spray painted dormant bermuda grass greens? Does it feel like putting on artificial turf? Are the greens receptive to approach shots? I was looking at the greens the big guys are playing on down in mississippi, the greens are GREEN. Noone said anything about them being painted

    • Ken

      Nov 8, 2014 at 7:49 am

      Here in the Nashville area there are a few courses with bent grass. They are mostly green throughout the winter. The Bermuda greens quickly go dormant and get fairly slick and brown. Sometimes it’s like putting on tile.

  24. ABgolfer2

    Nov 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Hockey.

  25. J

    Nov 7, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Pocket warmers…I’ve found you have a tendency to keep the body warm just by walking and carrying your clubs, but when your hands are cold the game is very hard to play. You lose feeling on everything. Plus, I alternate balls, leaving one in the pocket with the warmers. This may or may not help with compression on the tee shot.

  26. Jim

    Nov 7, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Great article and advice on how to keep playing through the winter. Layering is the best advice as well as using sunglasses. Switching to a yellow ball really helps when there are leaves or even low light levels too. But maybe the best ‘advice’ is to simply enjoy the quiet on the course during the colder months as you’ll likely be one of the only ones there (at least in the Northeast)and it’s terrific.

    • sgniwder99

      Nov 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Amen to that. Living in Rochester, NY for the better part of a decade, there was one winter when I was able to play all winter long due to an unusually mild winter. That was quite an experience. The courses were actually closed, but the munis would let you walk on. Most days I’d be one of the only people out there, and it was dead quiet. Great change of pace from normal in-season play. It was also…interesting playing the same pin placements for 4 months straight.

  27. bradford

    Nov 7, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Also wanted to add, WALK. If they don’t force you to take a cart, don’t. Keeping moving will keep you warmer.

  28. Jay V.

    Nov 7, 2014 at 10:36 am

    A lot of people forget the softer golf balls. They really make a difference in the cold. Put the V1s away and pick up Z-Star SLs or Q-Stars. You’ll feel the difference, hit them further, and won’t care as much when you lose one.

  29. Mike

    Nov 7, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Great article. I plan on playing much more this winter, and this will help out a lot!

  30. Ken

    Nov 7, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Probably just an oversight, but there’s no mention of choosing wisely when purchasing a high performance winter flask. By ‘high performance,’ I mean that something on the wee side … 4 oz … is selfish. Friends always ask, “Do you have a little extra?” Of course, I realize that brown water imported from Kentucky or Ireland is at odds with E-Bars and bananas, but what the hell.

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The simple fact is, the speed at which you can fire these big muscles is not going to be measurably impacted by removing another half ounce or less of weight from your driver. But what that removal of weight can do is to possibly allow for your hands to be faster, which would aggravate the problem I see in most mid- to high-handicap players. That problem is that their body core is not leading the swing, but rather it is following the arms and hands through impact.

Secondly, speed without precision is essentially worthless to you, and likely even counter-productive to your goal of playing better golf. Even with the big 460cc drivers, a miss of the sweet spot by just a half inch can cost you 8-12% of your optimum distance. You could never remove enough weight from the driver to increase your club speed by that amount. So, the key to consistently longer drives is to figure out how to make consistently more precise impact with the ball.

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Continuing with my “contrarian” outlook on many aspects of golf equipment, the typical driver “fitting” is built around an intense session on a launch monitor, where you might hit 30-40 or more drives in an hour or so. But the reality of golf is that your typical round of golf involves only 12-13 drives hit over a four-hour period, each one affected by a number of outside influences. But that’s an article for another time.

For this week, think about pulling an older, heavier driver from your closet or garage and giving it a go for a round or two and see what happens.

I would like to end today’s post by wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. It’s been a helluva year for all of us, so let’s take some time this week to count our individual and collective blessings.

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