How to score well in winter
Many of us shy away from playing golf during the winter months, and, on the surface, it is easy to understand why. The fair weather golfer will tell you that colder, usually wetter conditions make for harder scoring; that most courses are left neglected by groundskeepers, and that it is only the naive, foolhardy and disillusioned golfer that dares set foot on a course from December to February.
The reality, however, is that the naysayers only have it partly right, and winter golf can be both enjoyable and rewarding. As with any round of golf, we may leave the course enraged, but conditions rarely account for this outcome. Granted, the ball doesn’t travel as far and there is less run on the fairway, but courses are often cheaper to play; pace of play, something plaguing the game, doesn’t infiltrate the consciousness, and more importantly, there is nothing more beautiful than a sunny, crisp winters day out on a golf course.
But what are the secrets to scoring well in winter? Anyone that has learnt golf from scratch will be familiar with the phrase ‘play the percentage’. It may not be the most glamorous way to play the game, but it will reduce costly errors, especially in winter. The beauty of winter golf is that it eliminates some of those risk/reward situations and encourages us to play within our means. For example, if you are left with 210 yards to the green, there is simply no need to take on the shot. If 180 is your limit from the fairway, then the same applies. Shots that we would often take on -and fail to execute – in summer must give way to percentage play in winter. What is better, after all: losing a ball chasing a two putt par, or securing a bogey with a chance of par? Yes, pulling off the difficult shot is possible, but sticking to the prudent, pragmatic approach will save more shots in the long run.
Conditions also mean that indecision is taken out of approaches and pitches from 50 yards and in: we know exactly how the ball is going to react when it hits the green. This knowledge, in conjunction with ‘lift, clean and place’, can be used to our advantage in a number of ways. The first step relates to the previous paragraph: make sure you are in the fairway short of the green. Playing from heavy, wet rough with mud on your ball equates to very little control. From the fairway, you can play with a clean, dry ball from a perfect lie. Take dead aim with your approach and pitch the ball hole high. Knowing how the ball will react on impact provides a massive advantage, neutralising some of the inconsistencies and variations in bounce that are so hard to account for during the warmer months.
In winter, the need for effective course management becomes ever more important. It is vital to have a plan of attack for every hole and pivotal that it is adhered to. The main prioritisations for managing a round in winter must centre around keeping the ball in play. Take a 380 yard par 4, for example. It is far better to play safe off the tee and leave an approach of 180 yards, than play a second shot of 150 yards from the rough. If you do end up in the rough, remember one key principal: taking on a shot that seems unlikely to succeed will almost certainly land you in more trouble. Playing from the rough in winter is so difficult and hard to control; lay up to a sensible area in the fairway, utilise ‘lift, clean and place’, and give yourself a viable chance for par. Above all, it should be employed as a strategy for a wide cross section of the golfing public; high handicap golfers will get nowhere attempting tough shots from the rough, and low handicappers have the skill to get up and down on a regular basis from short of the green.
Putting surfaces are notoriously bad in the winter – something that cannot be avoided – but something that can be combated with aggressive putting. Winter greens have more grass covering, meaning they are slower and they take less break. You don’t need to worry about attempting to read a green perfectly, as it is almost impossible to judge exactly how the ball will react. Of course, it is all relative, but as a general rule, downhill putts with a lot of break should be started no more than two cups outside the hole; putts with a small amount of break should be hit at the appropriate lip, and uphill, marginal putts should be hit straight at the middle of the hole. Aiming for every putt to finish three feet behind the hole is the best way to ensure a positive, aggressive stroke, and eliminate overemphasis put on gradient in the winter.
Taking some simple steps before you head onto the golf course can be of benefit. Keeping your ball warm can help add extra distance, and chose the appropriate attire. Nowadays, winter wear shouldn’t impede or restrict your golf swing, and will keep you very warm in the process. There is no excuse to avoid golf in the winter – and a bad day aside – no excuse for poor scoring. Bad days in the colder months are not implicitly linked to conditions; warm up, employ a positive mindset and execute your strategy. Most of all, consider yourself lucky to be playing in winter, and enjoy testing yourself in different conditions. Fair weather golfers don’t know what they are missing out on