What is a Frost Delay in Golf

The Frost Delay in Golf: A Necessary Inconvenience

Nobody knows the weather like an avid golfer. If I need a weather report, I’ll just ask my golf buddies because most of them are half meteorologist, half golfer.  

One of the worst parts of winter golf is the dreaded frost delay. The frozen dew can ruin golf courses and present golf course superintendents with a challenging morning to prepare the facility.  

Frost delays in golf are an unfortunate part of playing in the winter. So, what temperature causes frost on the golf course? Can you putt on frost covered greens?

Today we’ll answer these questions (and other common questions), navigate frost delays, learn how to keep your body loose in the winter, and more. 

Dealing With Frost Delays in Golf 

Key Takeaways

  • Since golf is an outdoor sport it can lead to challenging weather conditions such as wind, rain, frost, heat, humidity, and more.
  • When frost is still on golf courses players are not allowed on the grass as it can damage the turf.
  • Frost delays usually happen due to a mix of clear skies, calm to moderate winds, cool temperatures, and local topography. 
  • Always respect the rules of frost delays to keep the course in the best shape possible for other golfers. That includes staying off the putting greens too.

Keep reading to learn more about frost delays and how to play better in winter golf. 

Why Frost Occurs on the Golf Course 

First off, why does frost occur anyway? Here’s a quick explanation so you can possibly game plan for a frost delay the night before your tee time.

According to this Weather article frost happens for a variety of reasons including:

  • Clear skies. This allows the most heat to exit the atmosphere more than a cloudy night.
  • Minimal wind. Calm winds prevent stirring of the atmosphere which can lead to lower temperatures. The air temperature is sometimes 10 degrees cooler than 4–5 feet above the ground which can lead to more frost damage. As mentioned in the article, “If conditions are favorable, air temperatures could be 36 F, but the air in contact with the surface could be 30 degrees or colder.”
  • Colder temperatures. This one is pretty obvious but paired with clear skies and calm winds it can make the ground even colder. Cool temperatures paired with a little moisture – such as fog – can lead to frost developing on the golf course. Temperatures between 38-42 lead to frosty patches while 33 to 37 degrees leads to frost covered greens, tee boxes, or fairways. Anything under 32 degrees leads to the most frost and typically a lengthy delay on the golf course. 
  • Location. The USGA also noted that the location of the course plays a pivotal role in frost occurring on the golf course. “Frost can linger in colder microclimates long after other areas have thawed. North-facing slopes, low-lying areas and areas sheltered from the wind are especially likely to remain covered with frost.”

This is why you can go outside your house and have no sign of frost but the course has a ton. This is why we always recommend calling the pro shop to get a weather update and see how much frost will affect your tee time. 

Frost Delay Golf Temperature

Frost Damage on the Golf Course 

You might wonder why can’t we play golf when there is frost?

This is another good question because anytime you’ve been on a golf course with frost, it does look quite picturesque. There’s nothing like seeing the lush fairways/greens, possibly some sun, and a small layer of frost across the course.

While it might yield some nice pictures for your social media, it’s horrible for the course if golfers try to play on it. As mentioned in the USGA article, “Golf course turf is normally resilient to traffic, but when ice crystals form inside the plants, they become brittle and vulnerable to damage. 

Walking or driving over frost-covered grass may rupture plant cells, leading to dead turf. Or the plants may be weakened without immediately showing the effects. It can take grass more than a month to recover from this damage.” 

Frost damage can occur most on closely mown surfaces… like the putting green.

This is why it’s so crucial to stay off the golf course and practice putting green before the round. These surfaces are quite vulnerable compared to the fairways and rough as they’re the most exposed. Plus the greens are much more highly trafficked areas. 

Greenskeepers might call to delay play even if the course looks ready to go. Sometimes certain greens might be more in the shade than others and still frozen.

Maintenance staff need to wait until the green is thawed before mowing or allowing players out on the golf course. Don’t forget they still need to change cup positions, collect range balls, mow the greens, and ensure no turf damage.

Avoid booking an early tee time to avoid as big of a frost delay.

How to Deal With a Frost Delay 

Frost delays can vary in length depending on the conditions and other factors mentioned above. Some delays might push back tee times 30–60 minutes, others can be several hours which is pretty frustrating.

Some superintendents delay play on the entire course or reroute play to the nine holes that have the least shade too. Here are the best strategies for dealing with frosty conditions. 

  • Check with the golf course. If you think frost might affect your tee time make sure to call the pro shop or check the courses’ website. A lot of times the course will have live weather updates as the phones can get busy with everyone calling at once. 
  • Dress accordingly. For the frost to thaw the temperatures will need to increase so wear layers. Chances are it’ll still be pretty cold the first few holes but then get nicer as the day goes on. Wear a few layers (vs. a big sweatshirt) so you can easily remove each as the temperatures get warmer. A pair of winter golf gloves and hand warmers can also help your hands too.
  • Keep stretching and moving. If you’re already on the way to the course and will wait at the course make sure to keep moving or stretching. Swinging several clubs at once or taking practice swings can help your warm-up as you might not get to hit range balls. This will help your body stay loose and stay ready for the first few holes. 
  • Warm up properly. If the golf course has a driving range with mats you should be able to warm up. But if the course has a grass range, chances are you can’t hit balls as it’ll damage the turf. If this is the case it’s best to stretch, make practice swings, and use a speed trainer like SuperSpeed Golf or The Stack System. These weighted speed sticks can help you stay loose during the delay and hopefully avoid injuries too. 
  • Have the right strategy on the golf course. Cold temperatures have a big impact on the golf ball, your swing, and the greens. First, the golf ball won’t go nearly as far as normal so club up (sometimes 1-2 clubs). Second, your swing might have a limited range of motion in the cold which can also affect your shoulder turn and total distance. Lastly, the course will change too – don’t expect much spin around the greens. The firmer greens with moisture on the club/grass makes it hard to get spin so play for more roll. 

Finally, don’t forget to practice patience as it’s not the superintendent and their team’s fault. It’s easy to get frustrated with the delay but remember to keep the right mental attitude to not let it impact your scoring.

For more strategies to master winter golf, check out our full guide here

Snow Golfing

FAQs About a Frost Delay

Do you have more questions about dealing frozen dew on golf courses? If so, keep reading through the most common questions and answers now. 

What temperature is frost delay in golf?

It’s typically between 32–42 degrees. If the temperature is 37 degrees or fewer it can lead to a lot more frost throughout the course and typically longer days. Course with more trees that shade greens or fairways can also extend the delay. 

Once thawing occurs the course will open for play but golf carts might need to stay on the path. Otherwise, considerable damage can occur.

Can you golf during frost advisory?

No, you cannot golf during a frost delay as it can cause immediate damage the golf course. This includes grass driving ranges, chipping greens, and putting greens too. 

What does frosty mean in golf?

Frosty in golf means there is an inclement weather situation that could damage the golf course. If players walk or drive on the course it can kill the turf and make it hard to recover. This is why it’s important to stay off the golf course in frosty conditions. 

Can it frost at 40 degrees?

Yes, most golfers think it needs to be less than 32 degrees but weather experts say otherwise.

As noted in the same National Weather Service article from above, “A local study done on frost formation relating temperature to dew point has these guidelines for frost: temperatures from 38 to 42 F can lead to patchy frost, 33 to 37 areas of frost, and 32 and below widespread frost/freeze.”

My Experience

Growing up in Oregon I experienced more weather issues than I care to remember – including frost delays. Frosty days are challenging because it’s typically very cold most of the front nine and sometimes the entire day. This makes it harder to swing freely and as aggressively as normal.

This is why I’m such a big fan of using a speed trainer before the round to get your body loose. Otherwise, you might not start feeling warm and swinging like yourself until it’s too late in the round.

Lastly, make sure to call ahead or check the website so you don’t have to wait an hour or more at the golf course. 

Final Thoughts

Weather delays aren’t fun but a part of playing golf in the winter. Always respect the rules when it comes to frosty conditions as you can damage the course a lot. 

Do not ignore frost delays!

When frost melts the maintenance staff has to go through regular golf course management activities so the playing surface is ready to go. Otherwise, the grass could turn brown and die – especially the putting surface. 

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