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Contrasting Pain and Joys of Winter Golf

By: Golfshake Editor | Tue 03 Jan 2017 | Comments

Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements

Brrrrrrrrrr...it's that time of year when it is all too easy to take a look outside the window and decide that it would be better to pull the bed covers over your head and go back to sleep rather than head outside, scrape ice from the car and head to the golf course, wondering what you are going to face when you get there.

Many people put their clubs into hibernation from December until March. Are they mad? There is nothing to beat that feeling of playing on an icy, rock-hard fairway and thinning a long-iron shot. You know what I am talking about - it is the shot where the vibration shoots through every single part of your body and back again, leaving you with no feeling in the ends of your fingers.

Or what about those putts across a frozen green, where your ball gets larger and larger as it get closer to the hole? And as you walk down the fairway, you feel yourself getting ever taller as the ice sticks to the bottom of your golf shoes.

You arrive at the course and your heart sinks. "Course closed. Next inspection 9am." You and your mates gather in the clubhouse over a coffee and a lukewarm bacon sandwich and then comes the good news. The course is open. You head out to the first tee and it quickly registers with you that conditions are exactly the same as they were when you arrived. Everywhere is still white, the ground is rock hard but at least you are out in the fresh air.

What happens next depends on the course where you play your golf, and that is one of the things about winter golf that causes the most frustration. Why on earth can't everybody apply the same winter rules? I also wonder if it isn't about time that handicaps are suspended during the winter, when we play preferred lies.

I play my golf in Suffolk, at Waldringfield Golf and Leisure, although it is about to close for 12 months as the owner has decided he wants to redevelop the place. So I am about to move to pastures new, and I already know that Hintlesham Golf Club, where I will be playing my golf, applies very different winter rules.

At Waldringfield, we are blessed with superb greens. The surfaces are among the very, very best in East Anglia and the greenkeepers are proud of what they have achieved. This means that when we have a hard frost we have to use temporary greens. I have no problem with that, except for the fact that our temporary greens are not the best, so much so that we introduced a "local" rule that if a ball finishes within a putter length of the hole then it is a gimme. 

Our head greenkeeper overcame this problem by installing extra-large holes on the temporary greens. All well and good, you might think, apart from the fact that during the winter months we often see competitions being won with 44-48 stableford points because the temporary holes are so big that it is almost impossible to miss them. 

And then there are the bunkers. You will know that the theory is that to play a bunker shot properly you are meant to hit the sand an inch or so behind the ball. Try doing that when the sand is frozen solid and see what happens. A lot of the guys I play with automatically reach for the short stick to escape the sand during the winter. Now you can call me old-fashioned if you like, but wouldn't it make more sense to take bunkers out of play when the sand is frozen? I really don't want to break my wrists trying to escape from solid ice, do you? And I refuse to use a putter to get out of a bunker.

If your course isn't frozen during the winter, the chances are that it will be wet. Very wet! Whether or not it is playable is entirely dependent upon drainage and the type of soil your course is built upon. Waldringfield drains brilliantly, so there are no restrictions on buggies or trolleys, and that is a huge bonus.

However, the course I am moving to has plenty of hills, humps and hollows and is affected when there is a sustained spell of wet weather. That means restrictions, soggy fairways, bunkers filled with water.

Then there is the whole question of dress. By the time you get to the course your car has warmed up nicely, then you turn off the engine, open the door, climb outside and get smacked between the eyeballs by the cold. How do you cope?

We all have our own ideas of what constitutes sensible winter clothing, but the key to playing golf in the winter in the UK is to keep warm. And boy, do some people have some strange ideas of how to do that.

You get everything from the boot and hurry across the car park towards the clubhouse, passing several people who seem to know you. But you don't recognise a single one of them because they are all wearing an assortment of ridiculous headwear, waterproofs, woolen gloves and snoods (will somebody please tell me: what is a snood?). And you walk into the changing rooms and emerge looking just like all the others. You walk to the first tee with three guys who you hope are the mates you arranged to play with – they could be anybody because you don't recognise them. And then there is the question of whether, when you get there, you will actually be able to swing the club because you are wearing so many layers.

Of course, it doesn't have to be like that. Thermal underwear is the greatest invention since sliced bread - and it is light and does not restrict movement. The same applies to thermal socks. If you have a decent waterproof suit it will keep the chill out. So that only leaves your hands - gloves and handwarmers are the answer. And don't forget to buy a sensible, warm woolen hat (no matter how stupid it looks).

If you are fortunate enough to live close to the coast then you seldom have any frost worries, but you do face a constant battle against a wind that wants to cut you in half. 

Winter golf, don't you just love it?


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