Most would agree that a bad day on the golf course is better than a good day at work. That becomes debatable when the weather turns ugly, which can make the course as miserable as a windowless cubicle.
Since the game is played outdoors over four-plus hours, an occasional spot of rain is inevitable. Sometimes, it’s not coming down quite hard enough to chase you back to the clubhouse, and you’re forced to deal with it.
PGA pros are used to this scenario; it takes a pretty good downpour (or lightning) for Tour officials to interrupt a round. Some golfers, like Tom Watson, thrive under inclement conditions, but most do not. They tough it out, though, by being prepared and following a few simple steps.
Of course, it helps to have the right attitude.
Why It’s Important
If you live in the tropics or the Pacific Northwest, playing in the rain is a fact of life. In reality, no place is entirely immune to a bout of the wet stuff.
Rainy-day golf can be a trying experience. There’s discomfort, inconvenience and a slower pace, plus unpredictable playing conditions. No one (except maybe Watson) enjoys slogging through a round in rotten weather – which gives an edge to the golfer who’s ready for it both physically and mentally.
What You Should Watch
The pros rely heavily on their caddies when a shower arrives. You probably don’t have that luxury, but you can still learn from their actions.
You’ll notice that the pros are obsessive about keeping their hands and grips dry. A towel is always handy and constantly in use, and they’ll go through several gloves during a rain-soaked round. Moisture between hands and grip can lead to disastrous club slippage, and must be vigilantly avoided.
The pros’ clubfaces are also dried before each shot. Water in the grooves causes “fliers,” or shots that travel farther than expected and bounce when landing, due to a lack of spin. The ball is also wiped down when it’s allowed to be picked up (e.g. on the green, between holes, and in the fairway if “lift, clean and place” rules are in effect).
Nothing can be done about wet grass, so pros mitigate the flier effect by playing less club (8-iron instead of 7) if they fear a shot might come off hot. On the other hand, steady rain pelting a flying ball will cause it to lose distance, another factor to consider. Plus, mud on the ball can severely alter its trajectory and direction.
Given all these variables and uncertainties, most pros will adopt a more conservative approach, aiming away from hazards they might normally challenge.
When the rain has been especially heavy or sustained over several days, puddles pop up on the course. This is called “casual water,” and the rules allow you a free drop, no nearer the hole, at the closest point of relief. If water is visible under the ball or your feet before or after you take a stance, you’re entitled to a drop. (See USGA Rule 25 for complete details.) The pros never hit a shot from casual water, especially when it affects the ball’s lie.
One more thing: All pros carry a lightweight, waterproof rain suit they can easily slip into and out of when necessary.
Apply It to Your Game
First, check the forecast before heading to the course. If there’s a chance for rain, pack a few towels, at least two gloves and waterproof gear. If the skies open up and you’re determined to press on, remember these tips:
- Make sure your hands and grips are dry before each swing.
- Between shots, remove your glove and put it in a plastic bag.
- Wipe down the clubface, cleaning off moisture and mud, before every shot.
- Dry your golf ball whenever possible.
- If riding a cart, cover your bag so no water gets in.
- Familiarize yourself with the casual water rule and invoke it as necessary.
- If conditions get really muddy, lift, clean and place your ball in the fairway (but not the rough or hazards).