Whether we golf does not necessarily depend on the weather. In fact, junior golf tournaments are played daily in seering heat, soaking humidity, drenching rain and bone-numbing cold. But do we really understand how weather and golf interact and influence play?
Ball flight is affected by many weather related factors including temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, wind etc. Of course you still have to get the ball into the air and the dry or wet conditions of the fairway obviously impact that too, not to mention on landing is the ball going to run or plug? Weather plays a role in that too.
True links courses are famous for high winds, driving rain and cold temperatures - and it requires a special skill to play in those conditions. Of course adverse conditions can be found anywhere, even in the fair climes of Florida or California!
As temperature rises the air becomes "lighter" - air particles are more active and thus less resistant to objects moving through them. Golf balls travel further in these circumstances. Per USGA ball testing statistics, a golfer with a club-head speed of 109 mph will see a ball carry increase 1.3 yards for every 10 degree Fahrenheit (F) increase in temperature.
Conversely, cold air is more dense, resulting in more friction or drag which slows the ball down in flight. If air temperature is below 50 degrees F, a high compression golf ball generally won't travel as far as a low compression golf ball. The best cold weather golf ball is a low compression golf ball. See our article on Best Golf Balls for Kids to better understand compression.
Barometric (or Atmospheric) Pressure is defined as the pressure within earth's atmosphere. A reading of 30 inches is considered standard with a low to high range of ~26 to 32 inches. When warm or moist air is blown into an area, the warm air is less dense than the colder and the barometric pressure drops and the ball will fly further. In general, weather experts will look to a decrease in barometric pressure to forecast bad weather coming in.
As elevation increases, barometric pressure decreases. Air is less dense which exerts less drag on the ball . So a ball struck in Denver, CO (the Mile High City) will generally fly for 10 yards further than the same golf shot at sea level - e.g. in in San Diego, CA.
Humidity refers to atmospheric moisture, or how much water vapor, is in the air. You may think, as you carry your bag in 100% humidity with the sweat pouring down your back, that the air feels so dense that it will curb ball flight, however, the opposite is true. Water molecules weigh less than the nitrogen and oxygen molecules that make up dry air, so the higher the humidity, the further the golf ball flies.
Wind and Wind-Chill
Wind is the natural movement of air at any velocity. Wind has the most impact on the movement of a golf ball than any other weather condition. Wind will impact you to varying degrees on the golf course whether it is into you, behind you or swirling across the fairway. You will often see golfers tossing small blades of grass into the air and peer at tree tops to try and determine the direction and velocity of the wind.
The key to swinging into the wind is to keep the ball low. The first step is to adjust your setup - play the ball back further in your stance (an inch or two more than normal). One is tempted to try and swing harder into wind, however, it is better to fight this urge and instead take an extra club or two (e.g. a 5 iron instead of a 7 iron) and swing at 75%, making solid contact. Remember the saying, "swing easy when it's breezy"! Lastly, a low follow through will help keep the ball trajectory low.
A shot played directly into the wind will exaggerate a draw or fade, so prepare for that. The less spin the better. In addition, if there is a strong right to left cross wind, the right handed golfer can aim more right than normal and if he can pull off a controlled draw, this will allow the ball to ride the wind to the player's advantage. Alternatively the right handed player can fade a ball into a right to left wind and thus use the wind the hold the ball on a straight line.
If the wind is behind you, you can try to hit a higher ball to utilize the wind to gain more distance. With the wind behind you, care should be taken when playing approach shots into the green as the wind will not only carry the ball further but also bring the ball in with less spin and lower trajectory. In general you will need to land the ball shorter than usual to allow for more run out.
There are various golf gps windfinder apps available (for example Golf Wind Finder) that allow you to visualize the wind direction at your exact golfing spot, making it easier to plan your next stroke.
When the wind starts blowing and temperature starts plummeting (40 degrees and less) the wind-chill factor kicks in. Wind-chill is often referred to as the "feels-like" temperature and bitterly cold winds increase the risk of hypothermia and frost bite. Wind whips away the thin layer of warmth above your skin so the more heat lost from your body the colder you will feel. The National Weather Service created the following chart for assessing wind-chill.
The rain comes down and people pack it in. Within minutes the range is often left soggy and empty. That doesn't happen in tournament golf. Unless there's lightening in the vicinity, play carries on and unless you don't practice in all weather conditions you're doing yourself a disservice. If you go out and practice in the rain from time to time you are setting yourself apart and setting yourself up for success, because it is a different game in the wet and if you practice in rain you won't panic when it comes down in competition.
Soggy conditions are merely different and not necessarily detrimental to your game. You can afford to be more aggressive if you have confidence in your club selection and carry distances as the ball is more likely to stop where it lands, and a wet ball carries moisture (increasing drag) and doesn't travel as far.
In wet weather, care must be taken not to chunk or blade bunker shots off the wet and compact sand. The general approach in a wet bunker is take less sand - i.e. to hit the sand less distance behind the ball compared to a soft sand shot (eg. 1 inch as opposed to 2 inches) with more of a square faced lob or sand wedge.
Likewise, when playing on soggy wet fairways and rough, it is important to not hit behind the ball. A soggy chunk (or fat or flub shot) usually is not a good result and can result in mud on your face. There are a number of stance adjustments to combat this including ones like keeping more weight over the lead foot (left foot for right handed players) and looking at the front of the ball at address.
If a junior golfer is not phased by playing in poor conditions, they will have a distinct mental advantage over those that leave the range or course as the first drops of rain start falling.
Also be aware of the golf rules relating to Casual Water and Preferred Lies which may be available in wet weather conditions. Casual water refers to water that has accumulated temporarily and is evident around the feet of player when taking a normal stance. A player may find the closest point of relief from standing water without penalty (unless already in a penalty area such as a bunker). Preferred Lies rules are also known as 'winter rules' or 'lift, clean and place'. These are local rules which, in competition, must be declared by the tournament committee and communicated to the players. This is usually done in the player briefing or on the first tee box.
On the golf course players are generally in the open and therefore lightning is very dangerous. If there is lightning in the area juniors should immediately seek proper shelter. A golf cart or under trees is not proper shelter. Many courses have safe structures out on the course under which players can take shelter. If none are available, players should return the clubhouse before lightning gets too close. Do not stand underneath or close to tall objects such as trees, flag poles or metal objects like fences.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, approx. 5% of all lightning deaths and injuries in the US occur on a golf course. Tournaments will generally cease play if there is a lightning strike within 5 to 10 miles of any area of the course. Heed the warnings and get off the course if play is called. No round is important enough to risk being hit by lightning.
Prolonged heat and dry conditions often result in courses running very fast. A drive off the tee may result in a ball rolling 50 to 80 yards further than expected, which may be helpful or not given the course layout. Practice rounds in these conditions are imperative to try and get a good feel for just how far the ball is rolling, both on the fairway and on the green. These conditions will often require using a shorter club off the tee - e.g. a 3 wood instead of a driver.
Regardless of the weather, it is important to be prepared for anything on the golf course. Pro golfer, Louis Oosthuizen, says: I pay attention to the sun. I've worn sunglasses while I play for years and I apply sunscreen. No matter where I'm playing there's a rain suit in my bag too.
Technically speaking a golfer's best conditions for ball flight are hot and sunny. Even though the average junior golfer may not necessarily see any significant weather related impact to their ball striking, except perhaps in their attitude ("it's so hot", "my hands are so cold I can't feel them") - it's interesting to approach the round of golf with more of a scientific mindset.
Encouraging thinking on a scientific level, starting with the weather, quite possibly morphs into a more strategic and systematic approach to the game in general. Which is really what we want our junior golfers to be focusing on in the end.
Golf Weather Quiz
In the interests of education and encouraging learning and assessment of all environmental conditions in the development of the golf game, take our fun 10 question quiz.
Additonal helpful information, golf weather tips and ideas are also found in our articles:
Junior Golf Rainwear and Tips for Playing in the Rain
Winter Golf for Junior Golfers.