There’s no denying that autumn has arrived. There’s a chill in the air, golden leaves are falling in the wind and it’s been chucking it down with rain.
With the change from hot and dry golf two months ago to the start of chilly, wet and windy conditions, autumn and winter golf is a different game altogether with its own set of pros and cons.
I made a list of some of the things that get my attention when the season turns golden.
Autumn leaves are great to see – until you can’t see your ball underneath them. I play with a yellow ball most of the time but switch to a white ball in autumn. Yellow leaves are perfect camouflage for a yellow or orange ball. Once the leaves have rotted and been blown away, I go back to yellow for a better chance of finding it.
I also switch from a hard high compression summer ball to a much softer low compression ball in winter. The colder temperatures will turn a hard summer ball rock hard and firm up a soft ball to something mid-range and workable.
Off the tee
In summer I loved the long ball-flight through warm air, a nice hard high bounce and a long roll-out for a long drive distance. I also had to be mindful to land it short of the green expecting the same generous bounce and roll. No more.
That ball now must fight through colder, denser air and then stops dead on soft, wet turf. Carry distances are falling like acorns and it’s the winter carry distances that really matter.
To score well, I’m going to need more club on most holes or pick a shorter landing spot than usual. The course is going to play longer. On the plus side, we have preferred lies to mark, clean and place that muddy ball. I just love those worm-cast tee pegs.
If I find the fairway and the ball isn’t plugged – two big ifs – it’s bound to be covered in mud and need a wipe, ready for a clean strike.
A few practice strokes later a clubface clean is needed, breaking up the pre-shot routine. I finally get an opportunity to hit the ball and yet again have to clean the club and scrub out the grooves. This is probably the reason why I have a cleaning cart in autumn instead of a golf trolley. So much cleaning equipment!
Shagpile and mud
To be good at autumn golf, I think you need to be good at nipping it off the surface, barely taking divot. I’m not that good.
I tend to hit down with my irons. Compressing the ball into soft earth or catch a wedge on the front edge that pushes the ball down a deep muddy trench or stops the club moving forward, killing the distance. It’s hard to find a realistic practice surface for autumn golf other than playing the course.
There’s probably a good reason why golf range mats in winter aren’t made of shagpile carpet soaked in mud. They should be.
A lake with a beach
The good thing about winter bunkers is that the sand is hard, wet and compacted by the weather, like a bare fairway, or they have a lake in the middle and usually GUR earning a free drop. This helps de-risk drives and green approach shots. One less thing to worry about.
And with soft wet greens I can pick the flag as my landing spot and be aggressive. This is where chipping balls into a bucket would be a great practice routine, if only I had a 6 foot diameter bucket.
Green bumps and bobbles
Right now greens are being prepared for winter, hollow-tined and sanded. Suddenly that fast, smooth close-cut summer green is soft, sandy, bumpy and a lot slower than usual. It’s probably had a soaking too.
The ball will dig in on landing and stop fast. Pitch-marks will need attention and the dirty ball will need marking with a PuttBANDIT, cleaning-up and aligning. But the break isn’t what it used to be in summer.
In autumn and winter, putts just don’t turn as much as I thought they might. There’s so much more surface friction and resistance keeping it on a straighter line. It takes a much firmer, straighter putting stroke to get it to the hole. No trickling one downhill and letting it die into the cup. It’ll need a more assertive push. The ball also bobbles around and gets deflected by footprints in the spongy surface close to the hole. Not great.
While autumn and winter greens can be a bit annoying and unpredictable, it’s an opportunity to get that frustration out of the system by putting more aggressively and really giving the hole a fright. I quite like that.
Autumn and winter golf in the UK is a different game. You must be motivated and keen to play, but then again, it won’t be that busy. Fair-weather golfers will be rare birds. And for those who do venture out, it takes a different mind-set, patience and a whole lot of warm clothes, hats, and cleaning equipment.
Enjoy your autumn golf
Paul Hart is a co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT ball marker and enthusiastic golf improver with a lot of cleaning equipment in the bag this autumn.
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