Is it because of COVID-19 or this being an election year? I’m not certain, but this has felt like one toasty long summer. Change is always happening, and since the week of Halloween or Hurricane Zeta, temperatures have been dropping like the water in Lake Martin in November. Take home your sweat towel and wash it, you may be wrapping it around your neck for extra insulation soon.
What will the drop in temperature do to your golf game? The answer is: a number of things. First, let’s approach the obvious. You’ll most likely be wearing a layer or two more of clothing, which is sure to slow your swing down a little. Harsh northern fall and winter winds will affect the golf ball as much as anything. That approach shot into No. 14 at Willow Point Country Club with the wind out of the north (right-to-left towards the lake) has always been exciting in the winter.
In Alabama, we expect to receive our fair share of rainfall in the winter. This, of course, will make fairways quite soft. Especially in the wintertime, don’t expect a great deal of roll from your golf ball with a driver. The sun and heat in the late spring, summer and early fall help the water evaporate and be absorbed; that’s not happening for the next few months. You will find more balls plugging rather than rolling from your good tee shots.
If you’re playing golf with your friends during these cooler damp months, have fun and play “Winter Rules” (lift, clean and place) if your ball is in closely mown areas. I guarantee you won’t want to play a mud ball from the fairway. Mud stuck on the golf ball will create some of the goofiest looking golf shots ever. If you’re in a competitive round of golf and rules make it mandatory – you’ll just have to deal with it.
Should you be required to hit a golf shot with mud on your ball, there’s a general rule of thumb to follow. The golf ball will normally fly to the opposite direction that the mud is on. If there is mud on the left side of the ball, expect the ball to go a bit right, sometimes way right.
With temperatures dropping, golf shots do not compress the golf ball at impact as much. This will cause the ball to fly a little shorter than normal, too. You should “club up” (select the next club up from your usual shot) at least one extra club on your approach shots to the green.
Another bit of a golf tip, especially if you’re a high ball hitter: Choke down and take more club. This will create a lower trajectory shot that will not be influenced as much by the wind. It’s all about controlling the golf ball. Try it a few times and compare it to your normal swing shots. You will quickly adapt and have another shot in your arsenal.
Use good sense and take good care of golf courses this time of year. Years ago, most courses overseeded the fairways and greens with rye grass. This practice made for a pretty course, but it also had its demons.
Even the most expensive rye grass seed always brought along some crazy weed seeds. These weeds brought nightmares to the golf course superintendents. When over seeding greens, I vividly remember the two to three weeks of putting on Velcro speed greens, as we waited for the rye grass to root well enough to cut them at reasonable green speed length. Thank heavens we don’t do that anymore.
Going without overseeding on fairways and greens, the dormant grass still needs attention, and that should come mostly from the golfers that are playing the game. If you’re riding in a golf cart, be cautious that you’re not driving in soft areas and creating tire ruts and depressions. When hitting approach shots or off the tee with an iron, be sure to kick in your divot. Always attempt to kick the grass back to the center of the divot, and if you have sand available, add just enough sand to cover the divot and reach the level of the surrounding turf; don’t build a mound. In other words; do not pour too much sand in these divots. The problem that this causes is to the mower’s blades. As you could well imagine, turf care mower blades are designed to cut soft blades of grass, not to smooth out sand-filled divots.
On the greens, ball mark repair is a necessity. Even if you’re a low-ball hitter and your ball skidded on the green, find where it landed and smooth that area out. Keep in mind, if it hit the green, it created a mark – repair it. While you’re at it, fix another ball mark or two while you have your divot tool out.
Dress appropriately for the weather. A pair of rain pants over your slacks in the morning will do the trick on most days. A beanie cap, flexible jacket and thermal long-sleeved shirt under your golf shirt will keep you comfortable most days. Don’t forget about your feet. Wear two pairs of socks; it won’t hurt your golf game. Also, you may want to find those older leather golf shoes you used to wear all the time. The more breathable, lightweight shoes may not do the job of keeping your feet warm and dry during the winter.
Check with your golf professional to prepare for these upcoming months.
Although it’s colder, don’t miss out on some great times and beautiful days on the golf course this winter. We are very fortunate to have a 12-month golf season here. Understand and respect the conditions. You may want to play from an extra tee up to have more fun this winter, but enjoy what’s available. Dress for the weather conditions. You’ll most likely find less congestion on the course and be able to enjoy yourself more. For those really cold days, purchase a butane heater for your cart. These inexpensive gizmos feel wonderful when the big chill hits.
With slower traffic on the golf course, consider introducing someone to the game that hasn’t played much or ever before. Maybe a niece or nephew. On most days, you won’t be slowing the pace of play as you would when the place is packed. Remember, an enjoyable round of golf does not have to consist of 18 holes. If you only have time for six or nine holes – get them in.
Anyone who has lived in the northern part of the USA knows that these upcoming months are bonus months on the golf course for us in the South. When I was a golf professional in Pennsylvania in the early 80s, being a Southern boy, I couldn’t believe how the locals there were so conditioned to calling it quits for the year after October. After that year in York, Pennsylvania, I returned to the South and never considered moving residence up North again.
Whether you were born here, transferred in or retired in our area, you are a group that I will refer to as the lucky ones. Keep your clubs handy. Aside from those frosty days, you know full well that we will also have days that give us some of the most wonderful golfing weather throughout the winter season. Stay loose and take on a few of those colder days so that you don’t have to start over again in the spring season.
I hope to see you on the tee. Wear your beanie cap and stay warm!
Dave Jennings coaches the men's golf team at Central Alabama Community College.