Throwing grass to check the wind is dumb. Here's why
Illustration by George Retseck
It has become a televised golf ritual: A player and his or her caddie toss some blades of grass and look thoughtfully at the trees around them—or the flag on an adjacent hole, like at Augusta National— to try to divine how the wind will affect the next shot.
It might be good theater—or a way to calm the nerves—but it turns out that the information gleaned from it isn’t particularly accurate. Just ask somebody who relies even more heavily on wind direction to win than golfers do. Nick von der Wense is a 15-time national sailing champion with experience racing everywhere from the open ocean to the lakes of Minnesota.
“Making your strategic decisions based on what you feel on the side of your face is a recipe for losing,” says von der Wense, who has raced everything from single-sailor Lasers to 80-foot-mast yachts.
“What you feel down by you can be, and usually is, very different than what’s happening 20 feet or 100 feet above the ground.”
Surface wind is impacted by everything from the color and temperature of the ground, barriers like trees blocking or channeling gusts and the prevailing wind direction that day.
“Your best bet is to look at the flag on the clubhouse; think of that as the prevailing wind and make your big-picture strategic decisions accordingly,” von der Wense says. “The more difference there is between the temperature of the ground and the air temperature, the windier it’s going to be. When it gets calm and awesome on the golf course at the end of a late spring afternoon, that’s when the ground and air temperatures have equalized.”
Under specific conditions—think of a hole at Whistling Straits with nothing between you and Lake Michigan—tossing grass might work, von der Wense says. But our advice? You’re better served by choosing your shot, committing to it, and not clouding your process with what probably is a bad read.