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How to survive winter

Putting your clubs away over the dark winter months will only serve to hamper your game, but finding a compelling reason to carry on will ensure you enter the new season in fine form, says Premium Golf’s Founder, Alex Nicolson PGA

From November through to April in the UK, fantasies of owning a Floridian golf condo must surely increase by 1,000 per cent. In fact, for fair-weather golfers, three words could adequately sum up winter golf in the UK and Ireland: cold, wet and dark.

Last winter was especially brutal, hanging on until the end of March, with the average daily temperature a dispiriting 2 ̊C. So, when I was asked to write an article for Golf Monthly about giving tips for winter golf, I felt the biggest topic to address was not what to do, but why bother? While there are numerous strategies to offset poor weather, short days and often poor course conditions (see my top ten suggestions, right), motivation is, without doubt, the biggest challenge to address.

Not Playing

One of the most popular strategies for avoiding discomfort during the winter months is to hang up the clubs for a bit. This can recharge the golfing batteries, and have you as excited as a schoolboy when the clocks go forward and Masters talk is in the air. You’ll save on Gore-Tex, hand warmers and drinks in the bar, so there are some compelling financial reasons, too. However, if this sabbatical extends beyond a few weeks, there is a downside.

On your return you’ll feel like the poor kid with glandular fever who missed the first month of term – and now needs out-of- hours tutoring to catch up. By spring, the sun is shining, the smell of freshly cut grass wafts tantalisingly through the air, stripes are on the fairway again, and you’re playing like a dog until the end of May.

Why This Winter Can Be Different

The very nature of the game has ensured even the fairest of fair-weather golfers are already trained to put up with a little adversity. If there’s a good enough reason, a big enough ‘why’ to keep playing and practising, then you’ll do it not because you feel you should but because you genuinely want to. It could be to work on your game in preparation for the new season. For golfers who aspire to improve, winter offers an opportunity to work on your game, ingrain good new habits so they’re second nature by spring.

Alternatively, it could simply be that you want to get out and enjoy the (very) fresh air and get some exercise, or keep the social side going to avoid becoming a hermit. Whatever reason appeals to you, if it’s strong enough, you can arrange your golf accordingly.

How to Start

Make a commitment – book a course of lessons, sign up for a winter matchplay competition, enter a big event early in the year or book a few days in the sun where you can take the sticks. There’s nothing like dates in the diary to get you out of the house when it “looks like it might rain later”.

Adjust expectations. Our experience of the game is affected by what I call the “enjoyment equation”. The difference between what you get and what you wanted or expected. One of the biggest causes of losing one’s golfing mojo in the winter is summer expectations. Getting your head around the reality of winter golf now, will help keep the glass half full when it gets cold.

This includes the weather, the condition of the course (and therefore the ability to hole putts), and the distance the ball will go. I think golfers underestimate just how much distance the combination of low air temperature and soft ground actually costs them. This could represent up to 40 yards less on your drive. As soon as golfers recalculate their expectations, it ceases to dampen their enjoyment.

Personally, I enjoy the chance to play different clubs into holes. Worplesdon GC in Surrey, where I coach, is an excellent winter golf course, and when the run on the ball inevitably diminishes in October, it becomes a new type of challenge.

What to Do - Top Ten Tips

As with most parts of the game, if you figure out the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, then the details of what to do become clearer. Here’s my top ten suggestions for winter golf:

  • Get your head around the reality of winter golf in advance – for example, shorter drives.

  • Quick formats like nine holes, foursomes and matchplay help beat the reduced daylight.

  • Enter a winter matchplay tournament – keep the competitive juices flowing.

  • Book a programme of lessons – but be really clear what outcome you’re looking for, and find a weekly slot to practise.

  • Get away – even three days in southern Europe breaks up the winter.

  • Use a ball that will give you extra yards.

  • Gimme putts – preserve confidence on less predictable greens.

  • Try to get a game at a links course – they tend to be in better condition than inland tracks because they drain well.

  • Indoor practice – putting on the carpet or an artificial mat, indoor swing training.

  • There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Multi-layer technology is a good investment to stay comfortable in challenging conditions. Windstopper tops, for example, are great at keeping out the cold.

Make It Happen

So, if you find yourself saying, “I should play more over the winter,” it’s more than likely that it won’t happen. Find a compelling ‘why’, and from this sense of purpose will flow more enjoyable golf.

Plus, imagine how smug you’ll feel teeing it up in the first spring match knowing you’ve holed a 1,000 putts on the carpet and honed your swing at the range. Who knows, if

you put enough money on the game, you might be able to buy that condo in Florida for next winter!

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