You can’t see it, you can’t contain it, but it can dictate how your game goes – in short, it pays to know how to deal with a windy golf course.
The UK is a famously windy country so RSNG has taken a look at its most blustery greens, and asked Dan Rogers, an academic expert on golf simulators, for his advice on how to deal with a windy golf course, wherever you are….
There are tough golf courses, and then there are links golf courses. The difference? In many cases, it’s the elements. Mother Nature is a competitive force all of her own, and countering a blustery course could be the difference between you breaking 70, 80 or 90. She doesn’t muck about.
Sitting on a coastline, strong gusts blowing in off the water are openly invited onto the vast acres that make up 18 holes, and with little or no protection – bar some gorse bush, marram grass and perhaps an undulating sand dune (which will redirect the wind as much as it absorbs it) – you can find yourself hopelessly exposed to the invisible violence all around you.
First, let’s look at some of the most brutal courses in the UK, by wind speed. It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to discover that Scotland monopolizes the list of windiest golf courses, and the ruthlessness reached peak ferocity during the 1999 Open Championship, when a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia ended up teary-eyed after finishing last.
Carnoustie was dubbed “Carnasty” that year after organizers narrowed fairways to as little as 15 yards in places, all while 35mph winds swirled overhead; yet in truth it had been regarded as a humbling course for many years previously (it's pictured above in a calm moment).
The opening round saw the world’s best players average 78, and not one posted a par score – indeed almost a third of the field shot 9 over or more. Ten former champions – with 20 Claret Jugs between them – missed the cut. Garcia arrowed a first-hole triple bogey and finished on 89, 18 over par.
The reason for Carnoustie’s oblivion is, of course, the North Sea. Cold, rough and choppy, the gusts offer no hiding place even for the bravest of golfers, yet the challenge Carnoustie provides has led to it hosting the Open on eight occasions, mostly recently in 2018.
Another UK course renowned for its squally unpredictability is Royal County Down in Northern Ireland (pictured above). The aptly named Graeme Storm won the 1999 Amateur Championship, and here the Dundrum Bay wind constantly wreaks havoc.
The unpredictability of working a way around the course with a backdrop of coiling gales is no better exemplified than on the iconic ninth hole, where players embark on a blind tee shot over a mound, with a 60ft drop to the fairway below.
Elsewhere, if you’re unlucky enough to play even the most perfect approach shot and see it grabbed by a flurry, you’ll almost certainly end up in a greenside bunker or the nasty, knee-high rough. And don’t be fooled by the beautiful surroundings of the Mourne Mountings, this is golfing evil.
The looming sight of the wind farms nearby is a convenient clue as to the potential violence that envelops what is otherwise a picturesque, ranging expanse
‘Quiet round’ golfers may also be advised to steer clear of Royal St Georges in Sandwich, Kent, too. The looming sight of the wind farms nearby is a convenient clue as to the potential violence that envelops what is otherwise a picturesque, ranging expanse (as you can see above), where many golfers have been humbled by winds of up to 40mph thundering in off the brutal east Kent Coast.
No better was this exemplified than in July 2011 when, during the course’s 14th hosting of the Open, Rickie Fowler’s incredible 69 bucked the trend of a bevy of otherwise crestfallen pros who, across the third and fourth rounds, battled against 40mph winds. None of the first 15 players who teed off on Saturday bettered 74, with Thomas Bjorn saying: “It was absolute mayhem – the players just got blown off the course.”
If venturing further north, consider Royal Liverpool if you fancy chancing your arm against the elements. The Hoylake course has a reputation for challenge and changeability, as the pros will discover next year when the 123rd Open is held there.
There are no dunes to protect the course, and golfers also have to contend with continually changing wind direction when rerouting between holes, so playing into a gale on one hole flips to a crosswind the next, including onto raised greens.
Wherever you play golf, if you do find yourself in the middle of what seems like a casting session for a remake of The Day After Tomorrow, there are a few adjustments to your game that may help – read on to find out more…
Blowback: How To Tackle A Windy Golf Course You’ve read the perils which await you and the Anemoi of the elements, yet still fancy heading out for a round? In that case, here are some tips, from Dan Rogers of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Dan’s work and research has been in the use of golf simulators, and he is a veteran of more than 15,000 golf lessons in an environment that replicates the conditions found in the great outdoors.
Lower Your Shot – And Your Expectations “It’s always best to hit the ball lower than a normal trajectory, especially off the tee. When playing in the wind, the objective is still the same – fairways are your friends. If your natural game involves putting the ball up very high and with a lot of spin, you could be in trouble. As a result, low stingers will help,” says Dan Rogers.
When playing links, what you lose in overhead conditions you gaining on the surface – they’re the windiest courses but they do benefit from being dryer than inland
Play For Control “A solid strike doesn’t require a harder or faster swing of the club, but it does mean you have to be more accurate. So, make sure that you get the best connection you can and by playing a smoother and more controlled swing, as this will assist you in staying in control of the ball.”
Slower And Silkier Swing “If you can practise a swing which is around three-quarters of your normal one, this will help reduce the amount of spin that the club face puts on the golf ball when it connects. A slower and silkier swing is what you need to train yourself to perfect for windy conditions.”
Consider The Direction “Mastering wind direction is perhaps the biggest factor in shooting an impressive (or even just ‘acceptable’) score, and reading this is every bit as important as, say, reading the slope of the green. Stop and assess what’s going on around, and wait for big gusts to pass before stepping forward.
“When you hit a golf ball into a headwind, any slice, hook, draw or fade will be greatly exaggerated. Practise hitting the ball as low and straight as you can, while getting your required distance. Consider also choosing an extra club from what you might usually select. The wind will increase the ball’s backspin, kill it and minimize roll.”
“If playing with the wind (coming from behind you), the draw and fade shots will not be as affected. Backspin is diminished meaning the ball will fly and roll further, so you may want to play less club.
“Think about the loft of the club you’re using as the higher the ball is going to reach, the more the wind will affect it. Also play the ball a few inches further back in your stance and it will compact your swing. Confidence in your swing will make you more self-assured about using the wind to help your shots.
“Perhaps the most fearsome shot of all is into a crosswind. Here, you’ll need to assess the potential hazards that lay ahead, but typically go with your natural shot. If you typically hit a fade, factor this in and use the wind accordingly.”
Play The Advantage “Wind isn’t always a disadvantage. With smart management of both the course and the conditions, this propellant can see shots land on greens when normally you’d be laying up short. Consider as well, when playing links, what you’re losing in overhead conditions you’re gaining on the surface, since while they are unequivocally the windiest courses, they do benefit from being dryer than inland locations.”
“That may seem a contradiction given they’re located, at times, just a ball spin from the ocean, but being by the sea makes links land sandy, firm, well-drained and, more than anything else, consistent. You’ve also not got to contact the forestry commission to get your ball back… though do get a local scuba diver on speed dial!”
WHAT NEXT? Go behind the scenes with pro golf caddy Steve Brotherhood to pick up some more tips on how to manage your game.
Photo by Derek Robson, Andrew Shelley, Hao Zhang, Yuri Efremov, Courtney Cook, Andrew Rice on Unsplash.