How to win at winter golf: 7 keys to mastering playing in the cold

We interrupt our coverage of this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii with some chilling news: It’s the dead of winter, people! Across large swaths of the mainland, hordes of us are dealing with dreary weather and subpar course conditions, if our local courses are open at all. Not that we’re complaining. Winter golf is still golf, which means it can be great. It just requires a bit of savvy and some thoughtful preparation. Here are 7 keys to playing through the cold and ice and snow.

Walk, don’t ride

If you really want to feel the wind-chill factor, hop onto a golf cart and whip around the course. If, on the other hand, you’d rather play 18 without contracting frostbite, it’s pretty simple: you ought to hoof it. It keeps the movement going and the blood flowing, your body warmed by the beating of your heart.

Layer up

Don’t make like a mummy or the Michelin Man. But do try to think in terms of light, warm layers, clothes that keep the chill off without restricting your silky swing. Thermal underwear is wise. Ditto sweater vests and long-sleeve shirts. Have you heard of those golf jackets with battery-powered heaters? Yep. They make them. It’s not a bad idea to stash one in your bag.

Rain gloves and hand warmers

Of all the parts of your body you’ll want to keep warm, your hands are probably the most important. Lose the feeling in them, and you’ll never find your swing.

Waterproof shoes, moisture-wicking socks

Just because the ground is frozen when you step to the first tee doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way throughout the day. Before long, the turf your trodding on will be cold and soggy, which is not a combination you want for your feet.

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A proper lid

Remember how your parents used to tell you that half your body heat is lost through your head? Apparently, that’s bunk, at least according to a study by the British Medical Journal, which found that the heat-loss number is more like 7 to 10 percent. But why give away even that modest amount? Ditch the standard golf hat and wear a woolen beanie. It’s a smarter choice. 100 percent.

Play winter rules

By that we don’t just mean lift, clean and place. We mean free drops when balls go missing under leaves or vanish in the slush and snow. Go easy on yourself. The conditions you’re up against are hard enough.

Post your score, or don’t

If you’re going by the strict letter of the law, you might not be able to post your score for handicap purposes. It depends on the region of the country where you play. As GOLF.com’s Luke Kerr Dineen explained in this recent piece, certain state golf associations (the organizations that oversee handicaps) abide by an offseason, a blackout period during which you’re not allowed to post. The idea behind this is high-minded. It’s to guard against sandbagging: if, after all, you’re playing in sloppy winter conditions, you might shoot a poor score that is not a fair reflection of your skill. We understand that reasoning. But we also recognize that this is winter, and we don’t want to be killjoys. If you play a round and really want to post your score, you could get around the blackout by backdating the day played. We promise not to judge you. And we promise not to tell.

Winter is a great time to upgrade your set. Schedule a fitting with the experts at our sister company, True Spec Golf.

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.