How Do Pro Golfers Know Yardage?

Pro golfers know how long they hit all of the clubs in their bag and knowing the precise yardage is essential in professional golf. One often wonders, given their accuracy, how do pro golfers know yardage?

With the advent of modern technology, there are several aids available to golfers from rangefinders to GPS apps that can work off your smartphone. These aids are NOT allowed in professional golf tournaments.

How Then Do Professional Golfers Know Their Yardages?

Top professional golfers know exactly how far they can hit each club, and it is important to know which club to choose, especially on the approach shot to the green. Not only would they need the distance to the green but the position of the pin on the green as well.

Coming to the assistance of the pro and his caddie is Mark Long’s yardage books. Mark was a professional caddie for many years and has been involved in the production of this book for more than 20 years.

How Does Mark Go About Putting These Books Together?

To produce a yardage book for any course a lot of high technology comes into play. The course is mapped using aerial photography, drones, range finders, and surveying instruments.

All the measuring and layout information is fed into a computer where a tailormade program then produces the book.

While technology is not allowed during the game, this book will give you accurate information processed by the latest technology.

What Information Do These Books Provide?

To the average amateur, the book would represent Egyptian hieroglyphics, but to the pros and their caddies, it’s pure gold. There is a page for each hole and the book is roughly the size of a large smartphone and fits in the back pocket.

There is a large black dot at the front of the green, and all measurements are taken from there. The green will show contours and the depth of the green. Smaller numbers on the green will indicate where contours begin and end and where the plateau is located.

Working back down the fairway strategic points of reference will be noted such as sand traps, trees, and sprinkler heads. They claim an accuracy of half an inch which is pretty remarkable as few golfers will claim an accuracy of better than half a yard.

Elevation changes, the width of the rough, sprinkler distance to the edge of the fairway, and everything else that would be useful.

The sprinkler heads are marked along the side of the fairway and the number on them is the distance to the center of the green. The larger numbers are the yardages to the front of the green. An underlined number in the middle of the fairway with an arrow pointing back indicates the distance to the back of the tee box.

Having been a caddie for so many years Mark would know what a golfer is looking at on the tee. Where to aim his tee shot to set up the best approach to the green and the best angles are important features of the yardage books. Trees and mounds bordering the fairways are also displayed on these diagrams.

What About The Greens?

You would think that with the green in view, or when standing on the green the player is quite capable of assessing the play himself, so why detailed information here?

We now have a second page for each hole, and this gives us the pin position, the slopes and plateaus, and the grain of the grass. This is critical information for the approach shot and on long putts. The pin position will be indicated as yards from the side and back or front and has to be at least five yards from the edge.

In Practice, How Is This Used?

Tournaments take place from Thursday to Sunday, and caddies usually arrive at the venue on Monday or Tuesday. The caddies would then get a copy of Mark Long’s yardage book for that course and set out on foot.

The caddies will place a reflector at the front of the green and using a rangefinder do their measurements and calculations. Knowing the style of their player they will note certain features that could be unique in their situation.

Some Thoughts From Mark

People often find it difficult to understand how critical yardage might be. When a player is on his game and everything is going to plan, telling him it’s 138 yards or 140, could completely change his club selection and how he plays the hole.

To show how important the accuracy of the book is Mark revisits every PGA tour course every year. Any updates even the slightest changes are recorded in the new version of the yardage book.

In the early years of his career, Long used a yardage book that was put together by George Lucas who was then caddie for Arnold Palmer.

A good example was the Pebble Beach yardage book that has been updated more than sixty times.

Other Options

Although Mark’s book is the go-to standard, there are a few other options. Some might be limited to a specific golf course only where the book creator has intimate knowledge. These might be used in some cases but always with the insight that  Mark Long’s yardage books offer.

Final Thoughts

Pro golfers take yardage very seriously. The inches are critical and the stakes are high. While they cannot make use of modern technology, these yardage books give them the edge they need to reliably calculate the yardage and are essential to pro golfers.

Now you know how they know.

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Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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