After the winter we’ve had most of us are chomping at the bit to get back out on the course. But with the time of year comes colder temperatures, softer ground and less favourable course conditions. All these factors have a large influence on the distance your golf ball will be travelling. Cold weather affects golf balls due to the coefficient of thermal expansion. Although it may take a Ph.D. to fully understand this, the short version is that materials expand or contract depending on the temperature, thus affecting their properties.
A chill in the air also affects the ball after it is struck. Cold air is denser than warm air and creates additional drag on the ball. Former USGA technical director Frank Thomas has said the difference is about two yards of carry for every 5 degrees C change in temperature, just enough to carry that bunker or not. The optimum temperature range is 22 to 30 degrees C so when we are lucky enough to play in sunnier climes the ball travels noticeably further.
Cold temperatures also have an effect on other elements of our game. We usually wear bulkier clothing and our bodies are not as flexible, further reducing swing speed that can result in fewer yards. How good a job golfers do at keeping their ball out of the frigid air also plays a role. For tour pros, that is often not an issue. Everyday players, however, tend to leave golf bags and balls in the boot of the car, so heading to the first tee with golf balls considerably colder than room temperature.
So what can we do? Keep your balls warm (no pun intended). Put a towel in the bottom of a pot of two quarts of water, bringing the water to the boil, leave them in there for 30 minutes and then dry them and place them in an insulated food bag. You can also warm them on a radiator before you play or even use a ball with a lower compression as these compress more easily.
A check of the Decisions on the Rules of Golf reveals doing this is perfectly legal. Decision 14-3/13.5 essentially states that while golf balls warmed during a round are a breach of Rule 14-3, balls warmed prior to a round are OK. Doing so might keep you out of the front greenside bunker