When the clocks go back and the first frost touches the grass, many golfers in the UK call a halt to their golfing year. Their clubs are ceremoniously put away under the stairs and the game is forgotten until the following year’s Spring Meeting.
Those summer-only golfers are missing out. The game can be highly enjoyable through the colder months. OK, there are days when even Sir Ranulph Fiennes wouldn’t attempt an assault on the links. But, on that perfect, crisp and clear winter’s morning, with no other players on the course, it can feel as though you’ve hit the golfing jackpot.
And, if you want to improve your game, you’d be crazy to give up completely during the winter. A four or five month lay-off every year will set you back. How can you expect to return to the game stronger in March when you haven’t made a swing since October? You don’t see Butch Harmon recommending Phil Mickelson takes five months off because he might just be better when he comes back.
There are many ways to keep your golf game in shape through the winter, and these should enable you to hit the ground running when the new season kicks off. Here are a few options to consider:
Keep playing rounds
Yes, courses in winter can be a little challenging. Sodden fairways, winter greens more akin to Conference League penalty boxes than putting surfaces, frozen bunkers and temporary tees can be the order of the day.
But, even when playing conditions are at their most trying, you can still get a great deal out of a round. You must learn a multitude of different shots to counter the elements – the low punch into the January wind or the runner that scampers across a frozen fairway to find an icy winter green. You must learn to pick the ball cleanly off a muddy lie and to putt with confidence on surfaces resembling an army firing range.
But all these strange shots will stand you in good stead when the weather turns for the better. Imagine how easy that pitch from a perfect lie will feel or how positive you can be over a six-footer knowing there are no tussocks or divots on your line.
Then there are those perfect winter days when circumstances conspire to make the round a pure joy: Clear skies, no wind and an empty course – ideal for working on your game. If you have a playing partner or two, you might play a match to keep the competitive juices flowing; if you’re on your own and there’s nobody about you might play a couple of balls – one against the other.
Get down to the practice ground or visit the driving range as often as possible. Even when the weather is at its worst, covered (and sometimes heated) driving ranges allow you to keep swinging.
Work out a practice routine at the driving range; don’t just bludgeon balls wildly without a target or objective. Pick a flag or other spot to aim at and work your way through the clubs trying to hit different types of shots.
Perhaps imagine a round at your home club. Drive from the tee to a spot you nominate as “A1 position,” then play an approach to another spot you imagine to be the green. Be honest with yourself about where the shots are going and try to get closer to the designated targets.
Autumn to early winter is the perfect time to embark on a course of lessons. Whether at the driving range, down at the club’s practice area or on the deserted course, a series of sessions with the pro could make all the difference to your golfing fortunes next season.
The off-season is the perfect time to make changes to your game. You don’t want to make fundamental alterations when significant competitions are just around the corner. Start lessons in the late autumn, make the necessary changes as soon as possible and work on them through the winter, so they’re engrained come spring.
The pro will tend to be quieter in the off-season so will have more time to spare. These days, he or she is likely to have all manner of technologies to analyse your swing. It can be filmed to make comparisons to the ideal action of the top pros, and your swing speed and ball flight data can be examined to see accurately where faults and potential fixes lie. This data could also be used to make sure you are using the right equipment to suit your game.
Make sure you have the right kit
With this in mind, it might be worth testing whether the clubs you’re using are right for you. Go to a pro or fitting centre with your current equipment and look at the numbers produced by a “Trackman” or similar ball flight analysis system. If those numbers are way off target then it might be time for a change.
Winter is also a good time to change, and get used to, new equipment. With the correct guidance, you could start the new season with new sticks that you can trust and have learned to use effectively.
Read and watch
It’s amazing how much you can learn about golf without actually swinging a club or hitting a ball. There are many instructional books that might just strike a chord or spark a thought that could change your game.
You could also try reading about sport/golf psychology. Books like those by Dr Bob Rotella (“Golf is Not a Game of Perfect,” or “The Golfer’s Mind,” for example) could change the way you think about golf and help you to be more rational and composed on the course. Perhaps you could start the next season with a new mind-set – a more positive and balanced approach.
Watch tournament golf being played in warmer climes on the telly. Think about how the pros construct a good score and limit the damage when they get into trouble. Think about what you can learn from them. You probably won’t ever be able to hit the ball 350 yards off the tee, but you can learn to be more strategic in your approach to the game.
So don’t give up on golf this winter. Keep playing, keep practising and keep thinking about how you could get better. If you love the game, then why put it away for five months of the year? If you work on your golf through these colder months, you’ll start 2015 on the right footing, with the best possible chance of improving through the season.