Having lived in South Carolina and Florida for the last few years, I’ve met a number of golfers who cleave to the 50 Degree Rule. If it is not at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside, they simply refuse to tee it up.
But having grown up in Connecticut playing late-fall junior golf tournaments and early-spring high school matches, there seemed to be a different "50 Degree Rule": The temperature on competition days seldom reached much above 50 degrees.
That being the case, I learned not just to tolerate playing golf in the biting cold and chilly winds, but to embrace it. In fact, I spent this past Thanksgiving week in Connecticut and managed to tee it up two days after Turkey Day, at Wintonbury Hills Golf Course for a blustery round that started with temperatures in the low 40s, with a high barely cracking 50.
I had a great time, and would encourage normally fair-weather golfers to try and expand their temperature tolerances – both during home rounds and on golf vacations – for three big reasons:
Why you should play cold-weather golf:
The shoulder- and off-seasons at golf courses usually mean drastically reduced green fees. For example, rates at Wintonbury Hills Golf Course in Bloomfield, Connecticut, normally top out around $80 on weekends in the prime summer and early-autumn seasons. November knocks about $30 off that rate on weekends and $40 on weekdays, encouraging hardy golfers to ball on a budget at a Connecticut super-muni.
Pace of Play
Since the cold tends to keep fair-weather golfers away, no matter the price break, you can usually expect to have the course practically to yourself. A three-hour round in chilly temperatures beats a five-and-a-half-hour marathon just about every day, no matter how perfect the weather.
For the most part, a chilly turn of the weather doesn’t necessarily mean a drastic reduction in course conditions, with one caveat: many courses will aerify their greens at the end of the season, so if bumpy and sandy putting surfaces are a deal-breaker, be sure and call ahead to get the skinny from the course you’re looking to play. If they’ve not been punched, greens might be a tad slower than normal. Tee to green, though, expect firm, fast and fun conditions, especially on a course coming out of a frost delay.
Video: Cold-weather golf tips from Chris DiMarco
How to thrive while playing cold-weather golf:
Walk the golf course
Golf carts are pretty much everywhere nowadays (unfortunately), but if you do want to venture out on a cold day, sitting in a cart is the best way to guarantee you’ll be miserable from start to finish. The physical exertion of walking nine or 18 holes will get your blood flowing and help you feel a few degrees warmer. Carry your bag or use a trolley of some kind if you like, but working your legs is the key to actually enjoying a cold-weather round of golf.
Bundle up completely
This is obvious, but while this used to mean packing on so much thick clothing that it became impossible to swing properly, modern layers are thin, warm and built to move with you. My cold-weather go-to is a long-sleeved Under Armour ColdGear base layer, a normal golf shirt and an Under Armour quarter-zip pullover. If it’s windy, I might substitute out the UA pullover for something more specifically wind- or even rain-resistant. Corduroy or flannel-lined pants usually do the trick from the waist down, but they’re not absolutely necessary because walking warms my legs no matter what.
The most important piece of any cold-weather golf ensemble, though, is the hat. My advice: ditch the baseball cap and opt for something woolen (pom-pom optional) or with a performance layer. Just make sure the hat covers at least the tops of your ears and you’ll be comfortable.
For your hands, you can go one of two ways. Activated-charcoal hand-warmers like HotHands are usually my preference, and I usually bring one for each hand. They carry the added benefit of warming my upper legs while sitting in my pants pockets, too. In their absence, though, you might prefer donning a pair of rain gloves, which will be particularly helpful if your grips get slick in the cold.
Adjust your playing strategy
In general, the cold is going to make shots play about a club longer through the air. You’ll gain some of this back in the form of extra roll off the tee and a bigger first bounce than normal on approaches, but taking an extra club should serve you well more often than not.
Since these rounds are played out-of-season as far as your handicap is concerned, don’t be afraid to stretch the rules. Preferred lies in the fairway are a given, and the Leaf Rule – a free drop if you can’t find your ball amongst the fallen foliage – is a good one to take up. Finally, if you’ve convinced your normal group to convene for one of these rounds, throw out the scorecards and play match play – best-ball, alternate-shot or a scramble. The more fun you’re having, the warmer it will feel.
Golfers everywhere are toting insulated bottles these days, meaning your coffee, tea or hot chocolate will retain its heat longer than it did in the past. And if you prefer a tipple, a nip of whiskey or some other spirit has been known to warm the bones in a pinch. If you want to imbibe old-school, find some kummel, a sweet, spiced spirit beloved of golfers in Scotland.
Got any cold-weather golf tips or stories? Please feel free to share them with us and your fellow Golf Advisor readers below!