By Ron Kaspriske
For those of us not lucky enough to live in San Diego, Miami, or Tahiti, playing golf in January requires a little extra preparation (and a really warm coat). Just like a car that needs to warm up in order to run well on a 10-degree day, your body requires a little extra love if you want to swing the club anywhere near as well as you do in mid July--and also avoid getting hurt. With that in mind, here's a little checklist of things to consider before you try to force a tee into the frozen ground and play a little winter golf:
1. Take a hot shower. Not a bad way to get things started, right? Let the water get as hot as you can stand it. Steamy, too. When you're done cleaning whatever it is you clean, get into your address posture and rotate your upper body back and through a few times as if you were mimicking a swing. A few toe touches are a good idea, too. The point is to warm your body up.
2. Dress in layers. And make sure to leave cotton clothes in the dresser. Cotton traps moisture and can lower your body temperature even more than its lowered by the cold air. Hypothermia is a real issue. All it takes is for your internal temperature to drop two or three degrees (below 95 fahrenheit) and you'll start shivering uncontrollably and become disoriented. Good luck trying to sink that four-footer.
3. Wear a ski cap, not a ball cap. Your body loses much of its heat through the top of your head. Wearing four layers of clothes isn't going to do you much good if you're letting all your body heat escape through the roof.
4. Check your cleats. You've probably worn out the plastic cleats on the bottom of your golf shoes after playing 40 rounds during the summer. Get them replaced before you play. Winter ground is hard and slick and can cause you to injure your ankles or knees (or slip and fall) if you swing a club while wearing shoes with poor traction. Also leave those cool street-style golf shoes in the basement until spring.
5. Skip the range and exercise instead. Let's face it, you're not going to break the course record, but you might break a wrist. Before you tee off, do some muscle-priming exercises that focus on the hamstrings, hips, glutes, mid-back and shoulders.
6. Walk, don't ride. This is the best way to keep your muscles primed once the round begins. It's especially important late in the round when the cumulative effect of playing in the cold for three or four hours starts to make you stiff.
7. Keep your hands warm as much as you can. Your body has this wonderful defense mechanism. When it senses it's getting cold, it sends blood away from your extremities and to your vital organs in order to protect them and keep them functioning well. When this happens, your hands will turn into popsicles and you'll lose all sense of how hard you're gripping the club. In fact, you'll grip it even harder and that increase the stress you put on the tendons and ligaments in your arms and shoulders. It can cause you to swing harder, too, which puts more stress on your back and hips. You're at much greater risk for injury. So unless you're swinging a club, keep your hands in gloves, in your pockets, or resting on some kind of heater.
8. Play one club longer than normal. Not only does the ball fly shorter in cold air, but your muscles don't expand and contract as well. That means you can't unleash a 220-yard 3-wood on that long par 3. Use a driver instead. Swinging easier with a longer club also will reduce the risk of muscle pulls and tears.
9. Be a picker, not a digger. If you are the kind of golfer who likes to make big divot holes, you're going to have to make some adjustments this time of the year, or you risk a myriad of joint injuries (pulls, tears, tendinitis, fractures, etc). Simply put, slamming a solid object (a metal club) into another solid object (the frozen ground) causes a violent impact and the aftershock travels through your body.
10. Save the booze for after the round. Alcohol increases blood flow to the body's extremities and skin. It makes you feel warmer when you're really not, thus increasing your chance of hypothermia.
11. Drink more water than you think. The more clothes you wear, the more your body sweats. You need to stay particularly hydrated in extreme weather (hot or cold) to keep your cells and your muscles functioning properly. It doesn't have to be cold water (if you can avoid it).
12. Grab some popcorn, lie on the couch, and watch Caddyshack instead. It's much safer.Related: The joys of playing winter golf
Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.
Photo by Brian Morgan/Getty Images