When the cold winds of winter sweep down over the Washington area, they don't just lower the temperature on golf courses; they also reduce the number of players. A number of local golfers head for Florida and points south; the fair-weather lads clean and store their clubs for the duration; and most women golfers give up the game until spring. But this still leaves hundreds of addicts who go right on hacking at the frozen turf, apparently unaware that the season has changed. How do these red-cheeked, watery-eyed, runny-nosed characters keep warm? It ain't easy. Some face the weather as if it's punishment for a summer of misdeeds. Others prance around with a wide grin, acting as if they should be awarded a medal for breathing fresh air. And there are those who quietly shiver and suffer and swear they'll never do it again -- until next next weekend. For newcomers to Washington and for the old-timers who might wish to have another go at winter golf, here are a few tips for keeping comfortable, more or less:

CLOTHING: Keeping the body warm is no problem; more important are the head, hands and feet. Long thermal underwear, heavy trousers and shirt, a sweater or two and a windbreaker should be adequate. The trick is to put on sufficient layers of clothing to keep warm, but leave yourself enough freedom to swing a club.

HEADGEAR: Many area golfers wear those heavy stocking caps pulled down over the ears. Covering the ears throws me off balance. And when I can't hear my own joints squeak on the backswing, I'm in trouble. I just wear a heavy cap and let the ears do the best they can.

HANDS: On very cold days I wear gloves on both hands. This makes the putting as comfortable as taking a shower in an overcoat; however it doesn't bother me, because I can't putt even under the best of conditions. Big fleece-lined mittens are nice to wear between shots. Hand-warmers are a great help, although I've never been able to keep one burning.

FEET: Rubber shoes are said to be warmer than leather; I don't know. Very few of my cronies complain about cold feet, so perhaps I'm the only one with a problem. I wear two pairs of socks and keep those thick insoles in the shoes and put the shoes directly against the car heater until I reach the golf course. I slip on the shoes when they feel just about ready to burst into flame. My feet stay cold from mid-December to early March.

ANTIFREEZE: Hot coffee before starting and hot chocolate or hot soup between nines can make a big difference. A Thermos of hot tea or coffee is nice to have along the way if one member of the group is willing to lug it around. Some of my friends carry flasks of brandy, in the event of snakebite, of course. They don't always shoot their best scores, but it doesn't bother them.

EXERCISE: To keep warm, keep moving. Walk, don't ride. Wiggle the toes, swing the arms and jog in place once in a while. Take a few extra practice swings when convenient, but don't slow down your group with a lengthy program of calisthenics.

GOLF CART: If you must ride, be sure the cart has a windshield and a top. And drive slowly -- the wind is sharp enough without stirring it up.

GOLF CLUBS: Regardless of any scientific arguments to the contrary, a good round of golf can improve the weather conditions. But a fat shot, banging a cold iron into frozen sod, can lower the chill factor as well as cause a tingle from the finger tips to the collarbone. So keep the grips tacky, use a longer club and swing easier.

GOLF BALLS: There's no question that cold reduces the distance of golf shots. Some golfers claim that two-piece bal oven!) the day before you play, and then alternate them every hole or so.

SHELTER: Last but not least, the most sensible way to keep warm and comfortable at a golf course is to stay in the clubhouse. But golfers in general don't claim to be the wisest people in the world. Furthermore, there's a great future in winter golf: Every day we play is one day closer to springtime.