Right around this time of year in many parts of the country is when golf loses its friendly facade. The trees bare, the courses brown, the snack shop long abandoned—the deeper into the calendar, the grittier the golf experience. You have to really want it. And if the wind’s blowing, you really should consider a hat, too.
But everyone’s threshold is different. At Golf Digest, we have editors who will play through frostbite, and others who shudder at the mere specter of long pants. Which leads to a simple but complex question: When is it too cold to play golf? Below, a sampling of opinions from our staff.
Guy Yocom: It’s easily the most subjective call in golf. I know South Floridians who won’t go to the grocery store, let alone play golf, if it tips below 65 degrees. Conversely, there is a college buddy of mine from Montana who not only plays when it’s 35 degrees, but wears shorts. The threshold for me is whether I can find someone to play with. Playing alone on a freezing day, every other thought tends to be, “Damn it’s cold” or “What am I doing out here?” You need brothers in arms to deflect all that. Cold-weather golf has its points. It gives you a fake sense of achieving something semi-heroic, golf’s version of the Shackleton Expedition. Nobody ever plays slowly; standing still hurts too much. The desire to bet, and hence grind away, takes a refreshing back seat for once, as playing is an end in itself. And a mug of hot soup afterward never tasted so good.
Nicole Rae: Playing competitively through college in the Midwest, I was consistently forced to play in wind, rain and freezing temperatures (often times 36 holes in one day). Now as an avid amateur, I refuse to play in anything that requires more than a light jacket. Wind? No thank you. Rain? Forget about it. These days, you won’t find me on the course unless it’s at least 50 degrees.
Steve Hennessey: If your physical well-being is not in danger, you should be playing golf. With snow in the forecast in late October one year, I played Great River in Milford, Conn., right before the storm moved in. Golf-ball-sized hail began hitting us in the face on the 13th hole, so we knew that was time to head back home. It took my group four-and-a-half hours to drive the 25 miles back home to New Jersey—and we skidded out on the highway too many times to admit. So check the forecast: And if there’s not a huge storm coming, why not tee it up?
Ryan Herrington: Forget temperature. It’s all about the wind. It can be 40 degrees, but if it’s a calm, sunny day, you can still have a great time. I’ve literally played some of my best golf during a round in Connecticut the day after Christmas. But if it’s a howler, and you can see your breath while digging for a ball out of your bag on the first tee, that’s when I’m comfortable keeping the sticks in the trunk.
Sam Weinman: I think of it as two questions: When is it too cold to play golf well? And when is it too cold to play at all? At some point when you’re wearing too many layers to turn and you’ve lost all sense of feel, you forfeit the right to think about score. But golf deep into winter is still worthwhile provided you’re not shivering over every putt, you’re not counting down the seconds until it’s over, and a ball off the toe doesn’t send shockwaves through your arms.
Chris Reynolds: As an upstate New Yorker, I have played in some terrible conditions. Our state match-play finals were always in mid-November in the snow. We always played pink ladies so we could compress them in the cold. I consider it a sliding scale: 45 degrees with rain, 38 degrees without rain, 35 with bright sun.
Alex Myers: When the number of layers you have to wear equals or surpasses the number of green jackets won by Jack Nicklaus.
Max Adler: When you need a hammer to get a tee in the ground.
Christopher Powers: If there is no wind, no rain and the sun is shining, I’m willing to go as low as 30 degrees. A couple years ago, it was a particularly cold April in New Jersey, but the Masters was on that first weekend, which had me and a few buddies jacked up for golf season. So we made a tee time anyway despite sub-35 degree temps for Sunday morning, hours before Spieth would infamously choke at the 12th hole. And you know what playing golf was better than on that frigid day? Not playing golf.
Peter Morrice: Temperature is a mindset. That first 45-degree day in March is a gift, but if we get one in October, people are out buying driveway salt. Whatever season you’re coming out of sets the tone for that borderline day. But I think 45 is my number. Maybe because a bit of wind can make that feel sub-40, and that’s sheer craziness.