Before I moved to sunny southwest Florida, I played high school and collegiate golf in the Midwest. I attempted to play and practice year-round for multiple seasons. I feel uniquely qualified to assess what you will face and what you may or may not accomplish Playing During The Winter outside.
GOALS for Playing In Winter
What are you trying to accomplish? A competitive golfer must play or practice during the offseason or they lose ground. A diehard golfer that loves to play will brave the elements because of sheer enjoyment and the need to play. The majority of golfers should look at those few winter days of sunshine as a chance to enjoy the game and take the rust off their swing.
Look for days without strong winds. The combination of cold and wind makes play or practice less productive and unsafe. When planning workouts, remember the cold will take a tremendous amount of energy from your body. Some days after you play you will be absolutely drained, making it unlikely that a workout will occur.
There may be more ways to practice than I can list here. My number one favorite is mirror practice. Find a golfer similar in structure to you and mimic their address, posture, and swing. Work on stance width, knee flex, head position, and grip. You will be amazed at how freely your swing will feel without a ball in front of you.
Some driving ranges will be heated and give you the opportunity to be reasonably warm while you hit some balls. Be careful not to hit ball after ball in rapid-fire fashion. The artificial conditions of rubber mats and no spikes is definitely different, so do not make this your only form of practice.
Putting indoors is certainly a good option. You can dwell on stroke mechanics without the stress of how many putts fall in. Work on the path of your stroke and keeping the blade low to the ground.
Chipping and pitching are both easy to work on during the winter. You can dress warmer without worrying about restricting your strokes and the conditions will not affect you as much as putting.
Has anyone ever won the US Open in January on frozen greens? No. Essentially you are practicing or preparing for when the conditions improve. Scores will be higher and are not the focus.
Tees, fairways, and greens will be longer. Temporary tees will sometimes be in play and will not be flat. Fairways are not mown and become inconsistent. It is not a good idea to always play winter rules; hitting the ball off a perfect lie on each shot will never happen.
Temporary greens are not worth putting on. I even used to avoid working on my strokes when the greens are slower. Your chips and pitches will most likely stop quicker.
The experience you obtain from playing in winter will be your greatest asset. The ability to judge distance, wind and the length the ball will carry will prove invaluable when forced with that situation next time.
The key to warmth, flexibility, comfort, and the ability to adjust is layering. I always had a plan for temperatures in the thirties, fourties, and fifty degree days. Let’s start with the head. Toboggans or hats are essential, lots of heat is lost through the head.
I start my layering with a t-shirt. Next comes a turtleneck or golf shirt, depending on the severity of the weather. Last would be a sweater or sweatshirt. Jackets are really tough to swing in, but can be put on in between shots if needed.
When it got really cold, I wore long spandex right under my slacks. A golfer is an athlete, and I dress for maximum performance. Rain pants are great when you have to stay dry or warm, but they are annoying and heavy.
Last but not least, always pack extra socks. Wet, cold feet are not comfortable and can become a distraction. Another good idea is to change your spikes. Plastic spikes have a short life; they must be replaced often. Make a habit of checking them after each round or practice session.
Last, but not least, this is the time to rest your injuries, work on restrictions, and prepare for the spring. The majority of the country has four distinct seasons that lets you experience varying temperatures, conditions, and time to play.
Obviously you can substitute working out during the hours you would normally play golf. Include flexibility exercises into your daily routine. The winter is a great time to change things and separate yourself from the habits or routines that detract from your game. Think about ways to incorporate your exercise routine into your life when the season rolls around.
For those who invest time in a conditioning program, you do not have to worry about getting injured during the occasional winter round or when spring rolls around. In fact, you may hit the ball longer than ever before and have quite a bit more endurance. The flexibility routine that you have established in the gym doubles as a warm-up for golf. Take the same mentality out to the course. Golf should have a specific warm-up, cool down, and your body should be properly fueled for optimal performance.
Lots of people try diets this time of year. How does it affect your concentration or ability to have energy during the round? Many times food is not readily available during the offseason. Learn to pack snacks and beverages (healthy ones), and stick to it during the season. Rarely will stopping for lunch to help your game. Golf is a sport that requires concentration and efficiency, try to learn the best foods for you while playing during the winter.
Whether you have purchased any new equipment or not, make sure everything is in great condition. Change your grips, change your spikes, and clean out your bag. Look into the latest equipment and ask yourself what are your weakest clubs. Sometimes a new club also brings a new outlook. Think of any gaps in yardage or lack of shots that a certain club may provide. When the weather breaks, your body and equipment should be ready.
I hope you have gained some insight into what to expect this winter on the links. Your score is not always the main objective. Most improvement in golf starts with an intelligent game plan.