Are You Ready For Winter Golf - Tips To Keep Playing
FOR golfers, the only good news about the clocks going back is that it means we get an extra hour in bed. Those long summer days when you would pop out for a quick 18 holes after work now seem like a distant, fading memory as it gets dark at 5pm. So, are you ready for the months that lie ahead? And, with increased numbers out there playing, are golfers and clubs going to face different challenges this winter?
We have some thoughts on what you can do to prepare yourselves for winter and on what you can expect to face in the coming months.
The Essential Winter Gear
The chances are that it is going to be wet - are your waterproofs up to the job? Cutting corners by buying cheap waterproofs is a false economy. You should be prepared to splash out on a jacket and trousers that will keep you warm and dry. If you are a keen golfer you will play in all weathers, so be properly prepared.
What about your shoes? The chances are that you have spent the past few weeks and months playing golf in the dry. Are your shoes still waterproof? Do you need to check and/or change the spikes? When soft spikes wear down you will lose your grip and slide all over the place when playing on wet ground - and not just when you are playing a shot. So, make sure that those golf shoes are still fit for purpose. And if they are, clean them after each and every round.
When was the last time you used your umbrella? Is it good enough to withstand the wind that will surely be coming your way before long? As with waterproofs, buying a cheap umbrella will only cost you in the long run as it will end up being blown inside out and discarded in a bin somewhere on the course.
Check that your course will allow you to use a buggy/trolley during the winter months. Many of them don’t. If yours is one of those, it might be time to invest in a smaller golf bag. If you are going to spend the next three or four months lugging it around on your shoulder you may as well ensure that it is not going to break your back. And make sure you buy one that comes with a stand to prevent it from getting soaking wet every time you put it down.
Put a towel in your bag. An important detail here - put it INSIDE your bag; if you don’t it will get wet and will be utterly useless when you need it most. Keeping your grips dry in wet weather is essential and the only way you are going to achieve that is with a dry towel.
And why not invest in an extra glove or two? When the first one gets wet, simply reach into your bag, and put a dry one on. But don’t let wet gloves in your bag. If you do, you will be in for a nasty surprise the next time you pull it out. Remove all wet gear from your bag at the end of every round and dry it out.
Do you have thermal gloves, socks and underwear? They may not look great but on those bitterly cold winter mornings the worst thing in the world is to start your round already feeling cold. It is vital to keep your hands and feet warm, as well as dry. If you don’t want to wear thermal gloves between shots, buy yourself some hand warmers. And buy yourself one of those woollen hats that resembles a tea cosy - it is important to keep your head warm.
The Golf Courses
Accept the fact that you are going to be playing from temporary tees and, in many instances, on winter greens. It may not be perfect, but at least you are still out there playing golf. Just cross your fingers that the winter greens at your club do in some way resemble an actual putting surface. But if you find that the greenkeeper has simply stuck a hole in the fairway close to the green, remember that it is the same for everybody. And before you set out, agree with your playing partners on the concession distance on winter greens.
You will end up in bunkers that are full of water, so make sure you have some sort of tool to fish the ball out. And remember that saturated bunkers are part and parcel of winter golf, shrug your shoulders and get on with it. You may even find that if a particular bunker is prone to holding water that it will be taken out of play during the winter.
It is also a time of year that you are more likely to come across ‘ground under repair’ - if your ball lands in such an area, you are entitled to pick it up without penalty. Do not be tempted to play it where it lies - it is ‘ground under repair’ for a reason.
Nobody enjoys playing from temporary tees, especially if there is a mat involved, or putting on temporary greens but it is for the good of the course. It allows tees and greens to recover. And it allows us to carry on playing for 12 months of the year if that is what we choose to do. Of course, those of you who play all of your golf on links courses will wonder what all the fuss is about because the chances are that your greenkeepers will be able to keep the standard tees and greens in play all year - it is all about the soil. Sadly, most of us do not play on links courses.
The Necessary Provisions
Put a flask of hot coffee or soup in your bag, or maybe even a little bit of whisky or brandy - for medicinal purposes, obviously.
Take a change of clothes with you. No matter how good your waterproofs are, water will inevitably find its way in somewhere. So, make sure you have something dry to change into at the end of your round.
Put a covering of some description in the boot of your car because you can bet your bottom dollar that no matter how much care you have taken, your golf bag will be filthy.
When you get home, clean your clubs and remove all head covers - don’t put them back on until they are completely dry.
Ensure you have a pitchmark repairer in your bag. The greens will be soft. And don’t be afraid to repair marks left on the greens by other people.
If your club is one of those that has seen an increase in playing numbers since the lockdown ended, you may be worrying about whether you are still going to be able to play as much as you want to. The fact is that participation numbers ALWAYS fall at this time of year, and the chances are that this winter will be no different.
But if demand does outstrip supply then perhaps it is time for clubs to consider two-tee starts as one option. Or, as some of you have suggested, to restrict play to nine holes, even if it is only at certain times of day. A way of making this a more attractive proposition might be for clubs to consider introducing nine-hole competitions. There would be the added benefit of getting people around faster. And maybe this is the perfect time of year to late at alternative formats.
We know that some of you worry about protecting your golf courses during the winter. When fairways are wet, too many club golfers take huge divots and do not replace them. This is damage that takes time to recover and spoils the course for other players. One alternative might be to provide each and every golfer with a small artificial grass mat that he or she takes round the course with them. Instead of playing from wet grass, you would simply place the ball on the mat for every shot.
Winter is a time of year when many courses close for days at a time when they get waterlogged - mats might help to prevent this.
This is the view of one Golfshake reader:
"Around me, a number of the courses really do not play well in the winter, so I'd like to see the courses take more action to try to protect them, both during the winter but also into the spring. The first set of measures are really simple to implement. I would like to see courses protect their fairways with mats - I've played with them and it didn't impact my enjoyment one bit. Linked to this, buggies and, when it's really wet, trolleys should be banned. This will also help to protect the fairways and heavy traffic areas. Finally, marking known problem areas as GUR should also help in the long run.
"More drastic measures should also be considered more regularly, including closing the courses for a short period of time, or switching it to nine holes, or introducing winter tee boxes which would result in second shots being played from areas which see less traffic in the summer. Obviously there's a financial considerations on some of these in terms of visitor green fees and membership value, but if people want courses in better condition come spring and summer time, I believe it’s worthwhile."
It is clear that many of you are convinced that the people who either returned to the game this year or started playing for the first time will not want to continue during the winter. This comment is fairly typical:
"I am fascinated to see what happens as the evenings draw in, the mornings are cold and frosty, and the mud starts to spread out around the course. Will so many of the new members still feel enthused to hit the fairways or not? I am in two minds over this as the shorter hours will mean less tee times and it has been increasingly difficult to get them at sensible times over the past few months. The other issue is whether the clubs can handle the extra footfall ripping up the course in the winter and whether we shall see more trolley bans than we have in the past.”
It is possible that while the weather remains mild there will still be plenty of demand for tee times, so make sure you book well in advance. Do not leave it until the last minute and make sure you get to the course in plenty of time. And expect weather delays - it might be for frost. It could be for fog. If you waken up, look out the window and decide that you really don’t want to play, don’t forget to let your golf club know. You might not fancy playing but somebody else might be only too happy to grab your tee time.
Oh, and put a 15th club in your bag. It’s called patience.
Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography
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