Meteorology & Weather

The game of golf is intricately tied to weather conditions. As Weather Channel meteorologist Paul Goodloe explains, wind, rain, temperature and air pressure can all affect a golfer's ability to make his or her next shot. "Science of Golf" is produced in partnership with the United States Golf Association and Chevron.

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DAN HICKS reporting: It's no secret that the game of golf is intricately tied to weather conditions. Wind, rain, temperature and air pressure can all affect a golfer's ability to make his or her next shot, something Stanford University golfer Patrick Rodgers knows well.

PATRICK RODGERS (NCAA Golfer): Really the only thing that you can control is how you hit the golf ball and then after that it’s up to the elements.

HICKS: The 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in felt Mother Nature's wrath over the four-day Championship, causing numerous delays and muddy play. Weather may be a factor again at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Country Club.

PAUL GOODLOE (The Weather Channel): It’s in North Carolina. It’s in June. So a thunderstorm is not out of the question.

HICKS: Paul Goodloe is a meteorologist at The Weather Channel who has been studying weather patterns for over 20 years. He's also an avid golfer. 

GOODLOE: It’s just fun! It’s you, the ball, your equipment and then environment. Weather is crucial to golf.

HICKS: Goodloe uses scientific models from the National Weather Service that tell him how likely certain weather events are. The models are based on data collected by hundreds of weather balloons and thousands of ground stations scattered across the United States.

GOODLOE: There are several different models out there that use the same starting point in terms of data, but there’s different formulas, different solutions with different models.

HICKS: Instability in the atmosphere due to rising and falling air, coupled with heat, humidity and high winds usually signals the right conditions for a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms can bring lightning, which is caused by electric discharge between the negatively charged clouds and positively charged surface. The charged regions, between the clouds and the earth and the structures on it, equalize themselves through a lightning strike, creating a dangerous condition on the golf course.

GOODLOE: Sometimes lightning will attract the tallest thing out there, which might be a tree, and if you’re a golfer walking on a nearby fairway, you can still have some effects from being close to that tree that’s struck by lightning.

HICKS: During championship play, officials keep an eye on the weather and if there is a potential for lightning, players and spectators are urged to take cover. Less dangerous storms with no lightning can alter playing conditions without stopping play. Factors like strong wind and rain can make the game more difficult or sometimes benefit golfers, depending on the situation.

RODGERS: Whether it’s blowing into you, you want to try to hit it lower. If it’s blowing with you, you want to try to hit higher to utilize the wind and often you can use that to your advantage.

HICKS: And while rain itself has little effect on golf ball flight - if the fairway becomes wet or muddy, the ball doesn't roll as far, and skilled golfers can also use wet greens to their advantage.

GOODLOE: I’m not a professional. I’m more of a hack. But these pros can literally throw darts and get those balls to stick pretty close to the hole.

HICKS: Temperature and humidity are other factors golfers must be aware of. Humidity, or water vapor in the air, makes the air less dense and lighter, even though it feels much heavier on the golfer's body. In fact, this same concept can be applied to air pressure as well. At sea level air is more dense and its density decreases as elevation increases. Less dense air has less friction and resistance against the ball, allowing it to fly farther.

GOODLOE: It’s all about the density of the air in terms of its impact to a golf ball.

HICKS: While technology has enabled meteorologists like Goodloe to make more accurate forecasts than ever before, weather is still somewhat unpredictable.

GOODLOE: Will we ever get to the point where we have one hundred percent accuracy? Probably never. But we’re still pretty darn good for you know, one, two, three days out.

HICKS: And that's why golfers like Patrick Rodgers must be prepared for any condition on the course. 

RODGERS: A lot of experience and practice is needed to be able to understand how it’s going to affect your golf ball.

HICKS: All the more reason why golf requires more than just skill and athleticism, it also takes a basic understanding of meteorology and weather to overcome whatever Mother Nature throws in a golfer's way.

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