Having recently experienced what appeared to be distance loss due to cold temperatures, I headed to the web in search of more details as to what exactly impacts the distance a golf ball travels in the cold weather. Here's what I found:
Elements affecting the distance include the cold air the ball has to travel through. Cold dense air slows the balls progress. The temperature of the ball and it's core impact how it compresses and there's impacts the distance it will travel. Add to that we wear more clothes which may restrict our golf swing somewhat, also impacting the distance a golf ball goes.
According to an article at Golf.com, a golf ball’s optimum playing temperature is around 80 degrees. That refers to the temperature of the ball itself, not to the weather at the time. At that temperature, golf balls will provide the highest amount of compression off the club face. Equipment expert Frank Thomas says that for every degree that temperature increases, there is about one foot of added carry. So, playing in 50 degree weather will give almost 7 yards of additional carry over 30-degree playing conditions.
From an older version of the PGA Teaching Manual;
'The temperature of a golf ball affects its ability to rebound from the clubface. The following chart is the approximate influence of temperature on the ball for a shot that would normally carry 220 yards at 75 degree temperature.
Yards --- Temp
226 ------- 105
224 ------- 95
222 ------- 85
220 ------- 75
216 ------- 65
214 ------- 55
205 ------- 45
196 ------- 35
What this means is that if you store golf balls in your trunk in the cold weather, rotating one in your pocket each hole is not doing you any good because the core is still going to be cold well after your round is over. Those mis-hits are still going to sting and you won’t be maximizing the playability of the ball. But let's face it, keeping the golf balls in your pocket while playing really won't have a lot of impact on the temperature of the golf ball because your pockets will not be sustaining 75+ degrees. Now, it doesn't hurt but remember, artificially heating the golf ball (liek via a handwarmer) is illegal in golf.
Anyway, all of this is to say, if you're playing in cold weather, you may need to add a club or more if the temps are starting to fall.