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winter golf

Gale force winds? Driving drizzle? These are ideal conditions for golf!

Your clubs may not have left the garage for months, but author Clive Agran can’t get enough of playing when the mercury drops. Hear him out as he sets out his stall in praise of winter golf

 

There’s a popular misconception that golf is a summer game – it’s not.

Serious golf starts around the first major frost in early November and runs right through to when the cuckoo arrives in early April.

It’s no coincidence that Scotland, where golf was first devised as an alternative to watching Rangers and Celtic’s dreary footballing duopoly, the season lasts very much longer.

Oh how I envy the Scots their gale force winds, driving drizzle and Arctic temperatures, for these are ideal conditions in which to play the game.

First of all, this is how golf’s pioneers envisaged it. Why else, do you imagine, did they select the most exposed stretches of inhospitable terrain on which to play?

They laid out their courses on the tops of mountains and beside stormy seas precisely because these were the places that were most likely to provide the right meteorological mix.

Those who have a genuine sympathy with the authentic spirit of the game and a true feel for its traditions will now, as the season nears its chilling climax, be smacking their chapped lips at the approach of the teeth-rattlingly prime months of mid-winter. For me, the February midweek Stableford is the outstanding highlight of the year.

Apart from the spiritual satisfaction of playing the game as our forefathers intended, there are a number of more practical benefits to golfing in winter, not least of which is the sparsely populated fairways.

Blissfully free of casual summertime hackers and occasional so-called players, they are effectively reserved for genuine golfers.

The others, thank goodness, have flown south to congest the Costa del Sol and similar uncomfortably warm resorts. Frankly, they are welcome to their inflated green fees, five-and-a-half hour rounds and unhealthy tans.

Call me xenophobic if you like, but those of us left behind – being true lovers of the game -understand its etiquette and traditions in a way that no bratwurst manufacturer from Munich or sauna installation technician from Stockholm can hope to do.

Lovely those these people undoubtedly are in their own peculiar way, I don’t want to be stuck behind them as they hoot, giggle and frolic their way round a golf course, especially when I’m paying through my peeling nose for the privilege.

winter golf

Winter golf: ‘It takes real talent to thread a ball between worm-casts…’

And you can’t put a price on the pleasure it gives me not to have to look at people’s knees and the gaudy gear that billows above them. Summer golf is full of hideous fashion statements that are close to blasphemous to those of us brought up on roll-neck sweaters, thermal underwear, decent waterproofs, thick woolly socks and a bobble-hat.

On a more positive note, your game will benefit enormously if you play in mid-winter. For example, if you can learn to strike the ball whilst leaning into a force seven gale when there’s little or no feel in your frozen fingers, your playing partner is sneezing constantly and tears are trickling from your screwed-up eyes, then you can honestly claim to have mastered the basics.

Anybody, more or less, can putt in the sunshine across a smooth green, but it takes real talent to thread a ball between worm-casts, leaves and the various detritus that is strewn about on a temporary without being distracted by the growing droplet at the end of your reddened nose and engaging in idle speculation as to whether it will splash onto your ball or freeze into an icicle.

Temporary greens with their altogether more testing borrows and unforgiving gradients are one of winter golf’s great treats; the other is mats on the tee.

How I pity those folk who have never experienced the thrill of finally screwing a tee-peg into a narrow slit on the mat with mittened hands or the jarring thrill of then hitting the ball fat.

Knowing how us winter golfers love a challenge, some courses are considerately installing what can best be described as rocking tee mats, where teeing off is made altogether more interesting by the introduction of instability. Like 25 per cent of restaurant tables, they rock unsteadily on their uneven legs.

By exaggerating the effect of weight transference, they enable the winter golfer to understand better the dynamics of his swing thereby giving him yet another enormous advantage over his summertime cousin, who has only ever teed off on grass.

For those unfortunates who have never experienced this particular pleasure, try and imagine what it would be like to play golf on board a ferry when the waves are higher than a well-struck wedge.

Unless the ground is frozen solid – which in itself is enormously challenging – winter golfers are spared the unpredictable bounces that occur in summer. In fact, if the ground is as wet as it is now, they are spared bounces altogether.

The advantages of this are twofold: firstly, the ball is always to be found precisely where it landed, which introduces a welcome note of certainty into an otherwise often uncertain game; and secondly, the course plays very much longer, which obliges winter golfers to learn how to hit the ball further.

Finally, there is a camaraderie among us winter golfers that warms the soul on even the iciest of days. As a storm lashes the clubhouse and golfers swap stories of heroics in the hail with a cup of hot cocoa in one hand and a frozen glove in the other, there is real concern for the friend recovering from exposure and the state of the starter’s frostbite. Ah yes, these are genuine people and this is real golf.

Clive Agran is the author of Two Ruddy Ducks and a Partridge on a Par 3. The book is priced £9.99 and can be bought here.

Now have your say

Is winter golf the purest form of the game? Do you enjoy it most when you’re battling the elements? Why not let us know your thoughts with a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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