How to Calculate Golf Yardages at Altitude

By Jim Thomas
So Yeon Ryu mastered the altitude and won the 2011 U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor.
So Yeon Ryu mastered the altitude and won the 2011 U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor.

When the best players in the world have trouble calculating yardages at altitude, you know it's not easy. The ball flies farther at high altitudes: The air is less dense, so there is less friction to slow the orb's forward motion. At the U.S. Senior Open in 2006 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs -- about 6,500 feet above sea level -- great players found themselves perplexed. "I'm a little bit confused on the distance I'm hitting the ball," Tom Watson told "Golf Digest." Bernhard Langer found the temperature changes throughout the day compounded the problem.

Determine the correct yardage from your ball to the green. You may buy a yardage book at some courses to assist you, or you may use the distance markers on the course. Walk off the distance between your ball and yardage marker location. For example, if you are 10 yards behind the 150 yard marker, you have 160 yards to the middle of the green.

Subtract 10 percent to account for high altitude, says "Golf Digest." Your 160-yard shot to the middle of the green will travel roughly 16 yards farther because of the thin air. Choose the club you would normally hit from 144 yards away.

Consider the temperature and humidity, notes Langer. The ball won't travel as far in cool weather or humid weather. It will travel farther in warm weather and when the air is dry.

Take into account your ball flight, says Fred Funk. If you hit shots with a high trajectory, they will fly farther in high altitudes. If you hit low shots, you won't get as much additional distance as those who hit the ball high. One such golfer, Kenny Perry, subtracts 20 percent to calculate his yardage in altitudes above 3,000 feet. If he has 200 yards to the pin, he selects a club he normally hits160 yards at sea level.

Prepare to be wrong and try not to get frustrated if your calculations don't work out well. Although the general rule is to deduct 10 percent to determine the "true" distance for shots to the green at high altitude, it's not a rule you can bank on. As "Golf Digest" put it, the 10 percent rule, even for the professionals, is "more of a ballpark figure than an exact science."

About the Author

Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.

Photo Credits

  • Harry How/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
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