Welcome to another golf blog from your slightly obsessed author. With the clocks changing in the UK this weekend it is perhaps the surest sign that winter golf is definitely upon us. What does that mean for you? Are you stick the clubs away sort of golfer or will you be out there all winter irrespective of the conditions and see it as a golfing challenge?
The trees are starting to change, the days are drawing in and the ability to nip up the club after work for a few holes fades once more into the memory until next year (and Covid restrictions withstanding!). What are your thoughts about winter golf. Do you play throughout, determined to play the best you can? Is it a chance to get out but you aren't bothered about scores in the cold or the muddy conditions and it's more about the banter with your mates? Do you use it as a chance to make swing changes and have the odd foray onto the course over the winter to see how it is going? Will you simply go to the range to keep the swing ticking over or have winter lessons? Once the mercury drops, muddy lies are predominant and winter golf is here do you give up completely? It is definitely the one golfing season that tends to divide golfing opinion about whether to play.
Let me start with my own take on this although please bear in mind I am something of a golfaholic and ever so slightly obsessed with all things relating to this fickle game so my views may be somewhat unrepresentative. Perhaps one of the greatest joys of being a member of my club, Royal Ascot, is its inclusiveness and there are a number of weekend roll up groups members can join (particularly new members) to get a regular game (perfect for those of us working in the week). I am member of two, one on Saturday, known as The Mittens and a Sunday one called The Claw. The banter is fierce, but well intended and having these groups to play in ensures there is a group of regulars that will play week in, week out in most conditions. This means I can always get a winter golf fix.
Let me add a small clause into that. I hate playing in a hard frost, even more so if we are on temporary greens and that is perhaps the only time (and snow of course although the club are very good at closing for snow to protect the course) I won't play. I find firing into rock hard greens (or a tiny target on a frozen and uneven fairway if we go onto temporary greens) a soul destroying exercise. More so putting. In these situations I'll scratch my golfing fix at a local range.
Talking of the range, this brings me neatly to driving ranges and also golf lessons (and you thought these were just ramblings and not the cohesive thoughts of a sane golfer). Given I can't get to the club to use the practice facilities weekdays, I will go to the range once a week to keep the swing ticking over. I am not overly blessed in the golfing talent department, although The Quest For Single Figures aka "The Quest" still remains a goal. I have to work hard to make the most of my limited ability.
One thing I have done in the last few years, normally courtesy of my lovely, if long suffering wife buying me a block of lessons for Christmas, is use the winter to have some lessons and try and get my game in the best shape possible once Spring turns up. I am lucky to have found a very good teaching professional that I've used for many years (read how he's recently helped my game in a previous blog here and the follow up lesson here)
Being somewhat fanatical about golf, and perhaps akin to players like Padraig Harrington (without his ability) I simply like to hit balls and tinker or work on things. If I am having lessons then I'll work hard on the drills and take time to really allow the changes to bed in. Winter golf gives me the time, without the alluring call of the course, to work hard on my game to hit the ground running next season.
Now I know having typed all that out and you've read through it, that many of you see the range as an anathema and find the notion or practicing absurd or get bored within hitting ten balls from the bucket. I get it! As I've said I am partisan or at least biased and somewhat blinkered to working on my game. I am merely putting it out there that the range can be a valuable tool for winter golf. Maybe give it another go and see if you change your mind.
Right then, let's assume you are a winter golfer and will be playing on a semi-regular basis. What gets you out there and what are you trying to achieve. For me, I am always trying to play as well as I can, but also know that the muddy lies we experience as the winter weather takes hold, makes it difficult. The biggest area I struggle with is pitching and chipping off muddy lies where strike becomes paramount. I do work hard on my technique for all things short game, more so in winter and will work off muddy lies in practice (told you I was somewhat strange) but once out on the course it all becomes hit and miss and of course this has a cumulative, and not normally beneficial effect on my score.
What about you. What are the best things about winter golf and why are you there. Let me know in the comments section or via my social media. Which category of winter golfer (or non-golfer once winter comes) are you and what are you trying to achieve. Perhaps more importantly what do you hate when you play at this time of year?
I guess being part of a roll-up group is the knowledge that it's a shared experience. Both groups I play in at the weekend vary from some very good single figure players up to those with handicaps touching the high 20's but there is no degree of handicap snobbery and we're all out there for the laugh and a few beers after. Yes there is a few quid on the line we play for, and we will cut the first and second on a Saturday for picking up the cash for their following three games, and the winner on a Sunday buys a drink for every other player, so no-one is making a fortune, but winning is never the driving force. Knowing we're all going to suffer in winter conditions perhaps to some degree makes it a more level playing field where the better golfers have to be right on it with strike etc where the higher handicappers have more margin for error. Discuss.... and show your workings!
I touched upon it already but I use winter for some lessons to try and improve. As Tiger Woods once said, "no matter how good you get, you can always get better". That's how I see it. I still think "The Quest" is achievable as a 50 something golfer. The great thing about my teaching professional is he'll never reinvent the wheel and so the changes, after some work on the range lets me onto the course with a swing that for the most part will get me round the course without having millions of swing thoughts. We've already talked about my winter 2021/22 programme. There are a couple of refinements to the full swing to be made but it's not going to be a major rebuild and a lot of the work will focus around the short game and improving my scoring in that area. Also ideal from playing from wet muddy lies!
So we've talked about why you're out there, but do you make any changes to your equipment specifically for winter golf. Aside from making sure I have the appropriate clothing, including waterproof socks, for me an absolute must no matter how waterproof you think your golf shoes are, the only thing I will change is my golf ball.
I am a self-confessed short hitter and while I can get away with using a premium ball in the warmer, drier conditions between Spring and Autumn, at this time of year with minimum roll off the tee and softer, more receptive greens, I need some help. If you have followed my blog and more importantly the Three Off The Tee Youtube channel which you can go to here then you'll know I recently reviewed the 10th generation AD333 golf ball from Srixon. Read the in depth review here and watch a mid-handicapper test the ball on the course here
I have been very impressed with the performance on the course since switching to them. Without any data to back this claim up, I feel I have gained a few yards (based on where I've hit my next shot from) and even of a milled face putter I am not finding the ball too firm. Of course there are other balls around, including the Titleist Tour Speed, Callaway ERC or VIce Drive that I have reviewed and would all offer me viable alternatives. Watch all my video reviews here
Talking of equipment, and one for the better golfers perhaps, do you make any changes to your clubs. I was thinking specifically in the wedges. Do you go for one with less or more bounce when its wet and muddy. I have a 58 degree Ping Gorge wedge (CFS shaft) but I actually have three models of the 58 degree wedge in TS (thin sole at 6 degrees of bounce which I use of tight lies - for example links courses or bone dry summer lies), the SS (standard sole with 10 degrees of bounce which is my all rounder for most conditions) and the WS (wide sole with 14 degrees of bounce which is what I tend to use of the wet winter lies and or in the summer when the bunkers have fluffy sand). The obvious question would have to be am I over complicating this? If you could let me know your preference for the winter in the comments book or on my social media it may help me simplify my thinking.
So that is some of my thoughts on winter golf. For me, if the course is open (bar hard frosted greens) then I'm out there. I have waterproofs and a rain hood that covers my bag so I'm happy in the rain (even if we only play nine instead of the full eighteen) and will layer up if the weather turns a bit nippy. I think winter golf is an opportunity. Yes it's difficult. Yes it's frustrating but take a little time to look around and see the course in a different guise. It really does offer a stark beauty. Perhaps if you are a minimal winter golfer (or a stick the clubs away golfer) this winter is the year you look at giving it a go. Given how much time we've lost through lockdowns, surely it represents a chance to get more golf in and make your membership seem more value for money.
I'm not saying it's easy. I'm not saying standing there at 8.00am with the mercury hovering around zero degrees or a sultry 1 degree in three or four layers trying to hit driver off the first is easy (or at times enjoyable) but once you are off and running and the banter starts to flow, you hit that first decent shot, then it doesn't seem so bad. It takes a certain mindset of course but approach it with a more optimistic thought process and you might just surprise yourself.
There you go, my take on winter golf. Do you feel the same way or am I off the mark. I'd love to hear from you. Give me your own thoughts. Are you an all year golfer happy to take on the course in any weather or is winter golf a step so far?