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Ah, Golf in Winter – the Good, the Bad, and the Forward Tees

Folks, please, we recommend that you do not try this at home. Rather, it is best tried at your local layout – and bring extra gloves….


by Blaine Newnham

For those of us who stick around the Northwest in the winter, playing golf is either nuts, or a well-earned badge of courage.

I look at it as an opportunity to play when few others do, a chance on a cold winter’s day to get in a six-mile walk, to be rid of those who love sunshine and a cold beer more than golf, to have three different hats in my bag – a baseball cap, a bucket rain hat, and a woolly stocking cap – and sometimes use them all in the same round.

But this is not a story how to dress or prepare for winter.

We live in the Northwest.

We know the drill.

As the Swede’s say (our son and his family live outside Stockholm), “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.”

The problem I have with winter golf is what it does to my swing. Somehow I’ve never been able to accept that I lose distance that goes beyond just getting older.

I start swinging harder, knowing I have to struggle to get the ball where I want to go. I forget the toll soft fairways, plugged balls, and cold, dense air takes. Not to mention cold, dense muscles.

The result is usually a game that collapses under its own expectations.

“Don’t be afraid to take one or even two extra clubs this time of year,” cautions popular teaching pro David Tunkkari. “Quite often this will help you make a better swing – hitting the ball more solidly and straighter. With my irons I try to play the ball slightly farther back in my stance – just one inch. I also try to make sure to approach the ball on a shallow path (inside out). I find this change in the swing and set-up allows me to make better contact – especially when the course conditions are wet.”

Okay. Okay. More club and less effort. Swing smarter, not harder.

But there are other ways short of flying to Maui to sweeten the wintertime experience. Beyond good shoes, a good rain suit and a proper hat, and beyond using two more clubs, I highly recommend these three things:

Move up a set of tees or two.

Find a dry golf course.

And play on the best days, between showers and storms.

Don’t underestimate what playing from the white tees can not only do for your swing, but your psyche, not to mention your enjoyment.

I mean who wouldn’t rather hit a 7-iron to a par 4 instead of a 7-wood? Where I play, there is an end-of-season tournament played from the way-forward tees, around 5,000 yards. I loved it. Hit 15 greens and shot 73, which was later adjusted to an 80 for handicap purposes. So be it.

Playing up a set of tees or two also offered a different look at the golf course. Why not alternate between the various tee boxes all winter? Most of us aren’t allowed to post a score for a handicap. And what if we were. The computer is distance sensitive.

The reality is that some courses handle the winter better than others. Take a road trip. Find a dry course either built on sand, or sand-capped during construction.

And while I eschew technology in golf, I’ve got to admit I check the Doppler radar before I head out. As an old friend used to say, “We’ll play until the rain starts bouncing.”

And, shoot, we might even play then.

Blaine Newnham is a former sports columnist and assistant managing editor for the Seattle Times. He covered the 1966 U.S. Open, following Ben Hogan around the Olympic Club. He covered his first Masters in 1987, when Larry Mize won it in a playoff with an unlikely chip shot. He covered the four majors of the “Tiger Slam”, when Woods won his four consecutive championships. In 2002, Blaine wrote a book titled “Golf Basics”.