Will El Niño Ruin Your Next Golf Vacation?

If you're thinking of going on a golf vacation sometime soon, you absolutely need to hear us out on this.

If you don't, you may end up miserable on your next trip.

And if you live in the Northeast and enjoyed 70-degree temperatures this past weekend, don't be fooled - this is a symptom of what we're talking about.

Meteorologists everywhere seem to agree: the world is about to experience a very strong "El Niño" weather cycle over the next few months.

(No, this has nothing to do with Sergio Garcia...)

You may have heard this term a few times in recent years, but never in stronger terms than the winter of 1997-98.

I'm not sure if you remember that winter particularly, but lots of golfers do. Many of their trips were spoiled because they weren't prepared for the weird weather that greeted them at their destinations.

Here's what you need to know so you're not caught off-guard this time around. Consider this your winter golf vacation weather forecast.

Bottom line:

There are never any guarantees when it comes to the weather, and we're not urging you to cancel any plans you've already got in place for the winter. But suffice it to say that if you're heading south and/or west for a golf trip this winter and have been considering buying a new rain suit, you might want to go ahead and pull the trigger. El Niño is the real deal.

What is El Niño?

El Niño cycles happen when the water around the Equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean gets warmer than usual. This time around, it looks like that differential will be a little more than two degrees Celsius. It may not sound like much, but trust us - it will have big ramifications for certain parts of the world, especially North America.

More specifically, some regions will experience unusually warm and dry winter conditions while others will cool down and be inundated with rain and snow on a potentially historic scale.

What happened last time and what's on tap this time?

There have been less potent El Niño cycles in the last 18 years, but this winter will bring a big one. In '97-'98, the areas most affected were the Southeast and Southwest United States - two prime winter destinations for traveling golfers. Out west, coastal California was particularly besotted, with mudslides causing millions of dollars in damage.

Back east, both Florida and South Carolina experienced their wettest (and Georgia and North Carolina had their second-wettest) winters - December through February, for the record-keepers - since records began being kept in 1895. In parts of both the Rockies and the Appalachians, snowfall records were broken or threatened in numerous locales.

On the other side of the coin, 13 states - Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - had either their warmest or second-warmest winters on record.

On the more golf-favorable side, much of the northern half of the continental United States was noticeably warmer or drier (or both) than usual.

This winter, more of the same is expected. The Southeast will be a bit cooler and likely much damper than usual. Out West, parts of California will get some help with the statewide drought, but parts of the state could once again see dangerous mudslides. The Plains and Northwest should be both drier and warmer as well.

Where will you need to bring your rainsuit?

In a bit of bad news for golfers and resorts, you may have to deal with a greater threat of rain than usual if you head south and east to play golf. Last time around, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle were absolutely slammed with rain throughout the winter, while the remainder of the South was merely inundated. Needless to say, if you're planning your annual trip, you may want to play it by ear as regards the weather.

Similarly, if you're heading out west, the California coast south of San Francisco might not be the sure thing you're used to, weather-wise. And even if you venture to Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Scottsdale, or Cabo, you might want to bring a rainsuit, as strange as that sounds.

Where might I get better-than-average golf weather?

Much as it may seem, El Niño is not all bad news for golfers. In fact, if you live in the Northeast, the typically mild temperatures associated with this weather pattern have already helped elongate your golf season into December, with temperatures soaring into the 60s this past weekend. And you can probably pencil in another few "bonus golf days" over the next couple months.

One popular resort, in particular, may benefit from El Niño: Bandon Dunes. One of our favorite Bandon tips is that winter visits can be a great value, due to the prospect of occasional stretches of brilliant (i.e. dry with highs in the 50s and 60s) weather there in January and February. And since El Niño turned Oregon warmer (but - be warned - not too much drier) the last time around, we're cautiously optimistic that Bandon will be milder than usual this coming winter. If you've been thinking of going, but weather worries have held you back, this might be the perfect year to take the plunge.

What areas will remain largely unaffected by El Niño?

Because of where El Niño originates, only certain parts of the world will experience wacky weather this winter. The Caribbean is unlikely to feel any major effects, nor should Europe. If you're planning to "go long" to Australia or South Africa, you may be rewarded with some warmer-than-average temperatures, but as you might expect, the regions closest to the source (e.g. the American Southwest) are likely to see the biggest departure the norm.

Got any memories or advice based on previous El Niño cycles? We'd love to hear about them below.


Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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Commented on

Sitting inside in rainy Scottsdale and heading to the movies soon instead of to the golf course. Have been rained out for the last two days! Prior games ended in rain. A bad week for Phoenix golf!

Commented on

What affect do you think it will have in the Monterey Ca. area from Feb. 8 through the 17th. I plan on doing quite a bit of golfing and going to the Pro Am that Saturday! Thanks, Bob C

Commented on

I am going to play golf in Palm Springs in mid March,should the worst of the possible bad weather be over by then.

Yours hopefully
Derek Smiles

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