Estimating Wind Speed

Most weekend golfers don’t do enough to compensate for the effects of wind on their shots. A 20 mph headwind can shorten your shot by 20 yards. A 20 mph tailwind can create an extra 10 yards of carry. A crosswind of the same speed can easily double the distance of your slice or hook, turning what’s normally a 20 yard miss into a 40 yard disaster.

Before heading out, I always check a weather website to determine the general wind conditions. But wind speed can vary significantly on the course, even from hole to hole.

Without a handheld anemometer, figuring wind speed generally is reduced to a few superstitions, such as tossing some blades of grass into the air to see what happens. Fortunately, there’s a more “scientific” method. The US government has used our tax dollars to construct the handy chart below:

Beaufort numberDescriptionSpeedVisual Clues and Damage Effects
0CalmCalmCalm wind. Smoke rises vertically with little if any drift.
1Light Air1 to 3 mphDirection of wind shown by smoke drift, not by wind vanes. Little if any movement with flags. Wind barely moves tree leaves.
2Light Breeze4 to 7 mphWind felt on face. Leaves rustle and small twigs move. Ordinary wind vanes move.
3Gentle Breeze8 to 12 mphLeaves and small twigs in constant motion. Wind blows up dry leaves from the ground. Flags are extended out.
4Moderate Breeze13 to 18 mphWind moves small branches. Wind raises dust and loose paper from the ground and drives them along.
5Fresh Breeze19 to 24 mphLarge branches and small trees in leaf begin to sway. Crested wavelets form on inland lakes and large rivers.
6Strong Breeze25 to 31 mphLarge branches in continuous motion. Whistling sounds heard in overhead or nearby power and telephone lines. Umbrellas used with difficulty.
7Near Gale32 to 38 mphWhole trees in motion. Inconvenience felt when walking against the wind.
8Gale39 to 46 mphWind breaks twigs and small branches. Wind generally impedes walking.
9Strong Gale47 to 54 mphStructural damage occurs, such as chimney covers, roofing tiles blown off, and television antennas damaged. Ground is littered with many small twigs and broken branches.
10Whole Gale55 to 63 mphConsiderable structural damage occurs, especially on roofs. Small trees may be blown over and uprooted.
11Storm Force64 to 75 mphWidespread damage occurs. Larger trees blown over and uprooted.
12Hurricane Forceover 75 mphSevere and extensive damage. Roofs can be peeled off. Windows broken. Trees uprooted. RVs and small mobile homes overturned. Moving automobiles can be pushed off the roadways.

I’d say that playing in anything higher than a “6” is pure folly.

But short of that, the main thing is to take the proper club. And that’s going to vary from player to player. I hit the ball very high, so wind tends to affect my shots more than a guy who hits it lower. To compensate for a 20 mph head wind, I’ll likely have to take three clubs. Not only will I get more distance from the longer club, the lower loft will help me keep it under the wind.

1 thought on “Estimating Wind Speed”

  1. I never really thought to much about the wind.  Sure if i felt a stong gust in my face I went with an extra club.  Thanks for the write up Ill have to give it some thought the next time I head out.


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