Calculating Yardages

I was watching a documentary recently on the evolution of animals and how animals that tend to be prey more often than not have their eyes on the sides of their head while animals that tend to be aggressive hunters have their eyes in the front of their heads. With eyes on the side the peripheral range is increased but there is a significant loss in depth perception. Hunters with eyes in front have very powerful depth perception qualities. Of course it made me think about us as humans being hunters and now golfers. We are designed to gage distances and hunt down pins on the golf course. :sunglasses:

While I used yardages like everyone else while on tour, I sure spent a lot of time shaking my head in disbelief while watching my ball sail over a green or land short in a bunker or lake, often questioning my caddy or the guy who made the yardage book.

Given a few times around a golf course, I am more amazed at how accurate I am with distances using only my innate instinctual sighting abilities. I believe this is a learned skill that really should be an integral part of the game of golf. We certainly are required to judge long putts and chips, pitches and shots punched back into play from off the fairway.

I remember talking to my friend Sam Randolph, and how he said he could sight a yardage 95% of the time within 3 yards of accuracy from inside 200 when he was playing full time on the PGA Tour.

I really think we underestimate ourselves.

I remember Hogan making some interesting comments about why he didn’t give the use of yardages much emphasis on his shotmaking decisions. It’s probably in one of The Vault articles (Seitz?). I might go have a look for it if someone doesn’t beat me to the punch.

I think it’s an interesting topic to discuss on many levels.

I think I’ve lost a lot of my ability to judge distance. Back in the day I would be walking to my ball and pass a sprinkler head on the way. It might be 50 yds from my ball, but that was all i needed to make a really good estimate once I got to my ball. Now I just drag out the laser when I get to my ball. Even the state am now allows range finders so it’s become sort of a lost art for all but Tour players and the top amateurs to be able to judge distance accurately.

I’ve gotten so tied to the laser that I’ve lazed pitch shots 50 yds from the green. I don’t even trust my own eyes anymore.

It’s sort of sad really.

Stripping away any habits or modern propaganda…

Should gauging distances be a integral part of the game?

It certainly was in the past, and many of the greatest golf courses even revered today were designed based upon that paradigm. Camouflage bunkers were very in vogue during pre WWII course construction. Shots over ravines were a little more dicey even for the pros if they were required to actually feel the shot.

Would golf be more interesting? or more interesting to spectators?

Would it add an element to the game that would promote a different style of play? More bump and run shots and so forth.

otto6457 (didn’t realize there were 6456 other otto’s on this forum! :wink: )

Make it a game to get your “eyes” back. Make a guess as you walk up to your ball and check your guess with the laser. I’ll be within 2 weeks you can easily kick your dependence on the laser and be a better feel golfer for the trouble! Keep us posted if you go that route.

Captain Chaos

I personally think everything with regards to distances should be legal. Mainly, I do believe it speeds up the game to have a rangefinder or a GPS and I think that knowing the distance only helps the golfer figure out what they want to do quicker. It certainly doesn’t help them hit better shots. And on tournaments, they could always use them in a practice round and keep that knowledge and still have to go back and pace off yardage. All of which takes time.

I think the only difficult I have is from 40-70 yards. I know if I swing my LW about 1/2 way back, that will go about 70 yards. Full siwng about 85 yards. SW about 112 full and 95 at 1/2 swing. The rest, I think you have to judge the wind and the landscape properly, then hit the shot well.


Here’s my little story that comes to mind reading this thread. I started using a range finder when I was about 16. Up until that point I would just look for the 100, 150 or 200 yard marker and just eye ball and estimate the distance, or at most I might walk it off as I’m walking to my ball. Then as I started playing in the bigger tournaments I would have a caddy (usually my dad) who would work his butt off getting me the exact yardage to the front, to the pin to a ridge blah blah blah and I swear my distance control got worse. I’ll never forget one tournament we got to my drive on #9 and I’m playing well, but I’m just a little off. He started giving me all the numbers and I just kinda snapped at him and said, “just shut up and give me the 7, I’m just gonna cut one in there.” It took me a long time to realize that the reason I hated having all those numbers in my head was because that was never the way I liked to play. I never had exact yardages for each club because I knew from a young age that every yardage is different for me day in and day out. Some days I preferred hitting a full wedge from 120 and some days I would rather cut in a baby 8 or 9. So much is dependent on the day, the wind, the pin position, slope of the green etc…I always think it’s kind of funny when they list the yardages the pros hit it in the magazines. What do those yardages even mean? Is that when you are hitting a cut, a draw, high, low, into the wind, down wind, up hill, down hill etc…Long story short, that range finder I was so excited to get for my birthday when I was 16-17 now sits in my bag and rarely gets used.

I forgot to add that whenever I do use the range finder, or someone I’m playing with uses one, I am NEVER more than 5 yards off inside 200 yards by eyeballing it. And even if I am off I would rather go with what my eye and intuition tells me the yardage is.

I suppose it could speed up play using a range finder, but it could also slow down play. It takes time finding a sprinkler head, stepping it off… pulling out a pin sheet, calculating the yardage, then trying to calculate elevation changes, tossing grass into the air and so on…

If players were simply required to hit their next shot with undue delay, no pin sheets or cheat sheets, books or so forth, I think golf can be ultimately played much quicker especially if you have some experience on the course.

I guess one has to clarify what should be the objective of the game?

Is it to see how low we can shoot as a collective consciousness using any available technology the human mind can concoct?

Or should the game be played within a tighter field of parameters, rules, etc… to protect par, the skill set of the player and create a harmonious meeting of player and golf course?

Looking and feeling, looking and feeling, or running numbers through your head trying to calculate the exact length of the backswing to match a particular pre calculated number are very different approaches toward playing. One very external, the other very internal even somewhat spiritual feeling.

Lipout, Zacashus and I played a nice persimmon game out at Mare yesterday and I can’t think of one hole where I was more than 5 paces off in distance control the entire round. I shot a 30 on the last nine holes we played with no par 5’s. Never once had a yardage in my head… just looking and feeling the shot. Only two of the approaches did I take a full swing… one with a 3 iron, the other with a 7 iron, both in for birdies. Finishing with three straight birdies, I wanted to keep playing extra holes, but darkness set upon us. But the feeling of tapping into that kind of cerebral control of the golf ball, even putting on pretty poor greens and still making plenty of putts, is to me what it is all about. It’s starts to feel like 6th sense stuff, artistic, magical, and beyond any kind of practical logic.

The 8th is a long par three, and card says 223 but it doesn’t play that long to me. Zach and I hit about the same distance, and he pulls a 2 iron and hits a nice shot pin high right. I usually hit a 2, but in this set of old 50’s Dynas I don’t have a 2. So I hit a 3. Knowing I was going to have to step on it, I played a draw which is going to go a bit farther the way I swing. Right when I hit it I knew it was nails. I had to rip it and I had to hit it solid. Landed and stopped on a dime 6 feet.

I think the subconscious and being in the zone has a much greater potential for fantastic golf than many would care to acknowledge.

As much of a mechanical swing junkie as I am, I see it more as tuning up a car before taking it out for a spin. Once out on the road it’s time to drive it.

Best to just feel your way around, first instincts are generally correct. Unless on a couse with a lot of optical illusions out there, maybe then just a general idea of how far things actually are.

I’ve always wondered why most holes appear much shorter when viewing from the green backward to the tee, almost like returning by car from a vacation the return trip seems shorter in time.

I know my depth perception is changing a little during aging. When I was younger I would know where the pin was on the green pretty close, now it’s different…not really as sure as I used to be. Might be I don’t play enough to keep that part of eye function as sharp as it could be. Or just aging, but aging is fun at some level :laughing:

For me, the object of the game is to hit the shots required to score the lowest. But, I think one of the major issues golf faces in this country is the pace of play is often very slow. Even if that drives regular golfer’s away, I still find the pace of play mind-numbingly slow in tournaments with serious golfers. Follow Zach Johnson around, you’ll want to hang yourself.

To me, slow pace of play takes away from some of the fun. I don’t expect speed golf, but I expect a pretty steady pace out there.

If you have a GPS or a rangefinder, it speeds up play. If you don’t, then you have to resort to pacing yardages off. And I’m not afraid to do that if I don’t have my rangefinder. But, it takes longer.

And if you eliminate yardages all together…well, then get rid of the hole yardages on the scorecard. And that probably still won’t solve the problem because a golfer could go out on the course and mark off yardages themselves with a rangefinder and say ‘150 yards to the green is at that tree, 100 yards is at that bunker.’ Then in the round they’ll just pace yardage off to the tree or the bunker. And eventually it will become ‘common knowledge’ that the tree is 150 yards, the bunker is 100 yards, etc.

Instead, all I do is grab my range finder, shoot the flag twice and I know my yardage. Then a little factor in of terrain and wind and I’m good to go. I actually play pretty fast. I think where rangefinders can be harmful is when golfers just go by the yardage and don’t figure out the terrain and wind. If I have a downhill like to a slightly elevated green, I probably need to take one more club because the terrain will cause the ball to fly too low into the green. But, I think many golfers just look at the yardage and don’t ever factor that stuff in. Still…play is faster.


or get a ball-park figure from the yardage indictators then sense the target & trust your in-built range finder, which might end up being more interesting & accurate than playing the numbers game

I struggle with the whole idea that rangefinders speed up play but perhaps its a cultural thing. I have been playing golf in the UK for 30 years and can’t ever recall playing with anyone who paced off yardages at an amateur level so perhaps my baseline is different. A glance at the 100/150/200 yard marker / post, a look at the target, a quick calculation and then pull a club is what I see for most here. I guess it could be an elite amateur thing or related to the type of course you play. What I am sure of is that on the odd occasion I have played with players who have used rangefinders / GPS they have been far slower than the norm not quicker.


Just about every amateur I play with, regardless of handicap, has a GPS. Most don’t like the rangefinders because they require you to steady the rangefinder and shoot at the target. Bushnell has ‘pinseeker’ technology that helps a lot with that. I do like to know things like distances to the trap, front of the green, etc. I have the rangefinder that calculates slope just in case I want to use it for a tournament. It really doesn’t come much into play down here in Georgia, but in a place that is hillier like Pennsylvania, the slope can drastically change the effective yardage.

Most people that are somewhat serious about the game that I play with, want to know the yardage and will walk it off if necessary. Particularly if the GPS is built into the cart and it is cartpath only. Just takes longer to do. I grew up playing golf before GPS and Rangefinders and in junior golf, just about every kid paced off the yardage. Big time hackers in the US are more or less just worried about hitting the ball and yardages are not important because there’s a chance they’ll never hit it the right distance anyway.

I’m not sure how a GPS would make somebody slower because you walk to your ball, it’s a quick glance and it tells you the yardage pretty precisely. Perhaps they are just slow players by nature, but I don’t see how the GPS has anything to do with it. Rangefinders I could see because you do have to shoot it, but it doesn’t take much practice to become proficient with that.

The only time I’ve seen slower play stemming from a GPS is I had 2 friends who had the same model GPS unit and they would stand side-by-side and then debate why their GPS units were something like 3 yards off from each other. At first it was comical, then it became sublime and eventually irritating.


Don’t allow The Borg to answer that question for you! :wink:

Captain Chaos

The only time I’ve seen slower play stemming from a GPS is I had 2 friends who had the same model GPS unit and they would stand side-by-side and then debate why their GPS units were something like 3 yards off from each other. At first it was comical, then it became sublime and eventually irritating.

Yeah, and if I’m standing behind you in the fairway when your pals are debating the accuracy of their GPS units, I’m getting pissed. This is typical of the ‘head down’ generation with devices that must be engaged at all times to update our status, compute distances, tell us how to get to the grocery store. This is why I rarely play golf anymore at or near peak hours, only after-hours when hopefully most might be home eating dinner. I expect within five years, smartphones will be equipped to send out probes to determine air density, grass growth, moisture, and granular displacement in bunkers since the last foursome went through. I can’t wait.

I played 18 on Sunday and did a little experiment. I used my rangefinder on the front 9 and just sprinkler heads and eyeballs on the back.

It might be due to getting a little warmed up on the back but I played better on the back. I’m pretty quick with the laser so time saved by just eyeballing would be miniscule. But my distance calculations were pretty darn close most of the time. I had a bit of trouble on the 2 long par 4’s that go back into the breeze. On both those I just tried to get a feel of the distance without even looking for sprinkler heads. On #13 I was long with the approach. (thought it was about 180yds, turned out to be 165 or so) and on our 500 yard par 4, 14th I just guessed at 210 and it was closer to 230. THAT was a little disappointing to say the least. Not just how far I missed the yardage estimate…but how short I was off the tee. LOL!!

Now, it was pretty cold Sunday. (about 45 degrees when I started, maybe 50 when I finished) And I also tried out a lower compression ball to see how it would perform in the cold. (not bad, but it sounds like your hitting it with a head cover on) So my anecdotal experience likely has no real value beyond just something to talk about.

My problem is that in State Tourneys and stuff there would be no way I would try it without a rangefinder. That is probably a sign of emotional weakness but I would feel like I was handicapping myself compared to the field. Plus, every time someone pulled their rangefinder I’d get all jealous and wish I had mine.

Playing a golf course for the first time is difficult, because you have to get a feel for the course… it takes time.
I don’t really like playing a course for the first time all the much… I prefer a course I have been developing an inner relationship with. I feel pretty comfortable playing a course for the 3rd time. Sometimes I can get it on the second go around. Yardages are helpful the first time around… but I can’t think of too many situations where I am really concerned about shooting a score on a course I am looking at for the very first time. I think Hogan said he needed 5 or 6 times around a golf course to feel it and learn it properly.

It’s not just yardages, but everything from the greens to the grass to prevailing winds and topography. Even the feel for how your round will progress, when to get aggressive and when to lay back. There a sucker pins, and even holes that really are not birdie holes. Sucker holes. So you have to be aware of those holes… and be able to identify them.

Uhh, no thanks. First of all 99.5% of all players have no clue whatsoever how far or in what direction any shot is going to go so yardage is irrelevant for them, they’d all score better taking everything bigger than a six iron and throwing it away. So even when you only talk about players who can actually control distance most of the technology is awful. The laser binoculars don’t give distances to the front & back edges or corners, the cart GPS screens I’ve used (mostly in Vegas) are constantly wrong by up to 30 yds, don’t show the pin position correctly and sometimes aren’t even on the right hole. Besides the number itself is one part only of the equation that everyone here knows or should.

Personally the only things I want are numbers on the sprinkler heads to the FRONT EDGE, not the middle & a pin sheet with the total depth & how many yds on the pin is & where it is in relation to the spines & levels. You have to have an accurate pin sheet because, DUH more times than not you can’t see where the hole is. Golf course design is based on creating optical illusions and I can’t see well enough nor can most people which shelf a pin is on on a 3 tiered green 190 yds away when looking at it from an 86° angle or when there’s a knob or a hump in front of the hole… This is about playing tournaments, playing for money & prestige and having accurate information kind of matters, besides who invented modern yardage? Ben Hogan of course.

Next if you eliminate yardage in tournament play especially the tour its huge cronyism. The rookies & young players will be at a HUGE disadvantage to the guys who have been playing these courses under tournament conditions for twenty years. I always thought the point was to identify the best player every week or at least who’s playing best, not who’s been there the longest & knows it best.

Not wanting proper information is in a word insane. Jesper Parnevik not looking at the scoreboard on the 72nd to realize he’s. 1up is insane, this is actually even worse. Do you turn a number into an absolute, no but it is necessary information to make the best decision & get the best consistent results. Can you do it without the numbers, sure but not as well. This whole thing is turning into either a farce or a how-to finish last in every tournament you ever play… No yardage, no strategy, no game management, no practice, no aim, don’t tee up a driver, no pin sheet what’s next playing blindfolded?

Certainly differences in opinion on yardages.

I think a good architect able to create illusions, should be applauded for doing so successfully. This is what gives a course
character, charm but teeth also. It’s part of the mystery and allure of a quality golf course.

My interview with former 1967 Quebec Open champion John Henrick was insightful into how they did things back then. They didn’t use yardages in the way they do today, stepping off shots and so on… but they did know that if they hit a good drive on a 400 yard par four that they would have about a 7 iron into the green. If they really nailed the drive maybe an 8 or 9. They new walking off the tee what club they would need for the their second shot. If they missed their drive a bit a 5 or a 6.
Back then, scores were more consistent with par as a respectable measurement of a good round of golf. I don’t know what goes on today. When do you say “good round” to someone on the 18th? Certainly not shooting par, 71 or even 70. Does a guy have to shoot 65 for the other guys to say anything these days with a congratulatory tone?

I would have no problem with the idea of experience paying dividends. When I first arrived on tour, I didn’t by any means expect to knock out the vets my first year out… or even two or three… but I think 6 loops around a course should give you a pretty good feel for the property. Practice round on Tuesday, Pro Am on Wed, make the cut and finish on Sunday… and you should feel better showing up there your second year. If you’re really a hot shot coming out of college or a top national amateur, some of those guys would still do well against veterans even without yardage books.

I do think they are cheat sheets. You can be very informed about a golf course if you play it a few times. No books would be the same for everyone. You can’t show up to your Math exam with a cheat sheet. One of the skills we all should have learned in school was how to retain memory and storing knowledge in the brain without written notes or cheat sheets.

Golf is a game played against the course itself, and in all fairness to the course, knowing the yardage to the exact foot takes away the mystery, and the need for that special “in the zone” kind of awareness that you can tap into at times. A player should be rewarded for that special ability.

One of the ideas of having a caddy years ago was for that extra person to be a second set of eyes, and that caddy would often have the special local knowledge that could really aid and help a newbie player work the ball around the course. It’s another articulation of the game that has really gone the way of the golf cart, rangefinders etc…

Certainly an interesting subject to ponder… but if everyone is playing somewhat blind… then the best blind person will still win on Sunday afternoon. Removing the books would still be the same for everyone…and maybe give a bit of an edge for the older guy with experience to compete against the younger player who hits the ball farther etc…

I think it was great to see the 60 year old Tom Watson tie for first in The Open a couple years ago… and beat all the younger players through experience and excellent technique on a real golf course that was much more multidimensional than the standard tour offering.

The best place to exemplify the difference between information and strategy is the Old Course now that you bring up the Open. You look from the tee down the fairway and you see a browned out football pitch but if you look back from the green it’s the pock marked surface of the moon. You have absolutely NO IDEA what the hell is going on without a map and I can’t imagine if I played it 1000x I’d remember every bunker and every line to every hole location in every wind. The strategy of every hole starts with the hole location and you have to have a Plan A & B before you pick a club or a line on the tee. Unless you really want to pitch it out sideways or backwards from the bunkers all day… This is Genesis of golf course architecture, everything in the world is a derivative in some way shape or form of St Andrews. You have to have information, pin positions, locations of bunkers & other obstacles and base a strategy on that information along with everything else. The information is a component that is necessary in order to compete. Not giving yourself proper information is stupid and puts anyone at a huge disadvantage just like not looking at scoreboards would. Its right there, why on earth not? The gadgets are stupid and unnecessary of course but yardage markers eliminate having to figure everything out yourself, sometimes you have to anyway but thankfully not always. Common knowledge breeds truer competition.

And as far as Tom Watson in the Open, number one he is that good, period. Also he had superior strategy to anyone else at Turnberry by far. Everybody had the info, Watson understood it far better than the rest. Part is experience, part is a champion being a champion. But the information has to be available to every competitor if it’s going to be a fair playing field. The same way everyone should play the same ball. What’s the difference between between tricked out corner pins & hidden hazards and tuning golf balls for Tiger & Phil but not for lesser name players? A veteran may have a better strategy that has been developed over the years but the info to come up with that strategy has to be available to everyone in the field.

If the Celtics could set the rims at different heights for al their home games and practices at the different heights but the other team doesn’t know what it is until the warmups is that going to make a fair game? Hell no. Its a joke. I don’t make light of Len Bias but you’ll notice they stopped winning titles for 20 yrs when they moved into the new building which happened to have A/C and no dead spots in the parquet. It may have only been 10% of the reason but it was part of the biggest home court playoff advantage ever. At some point the cream needs to rise to the top regardless of gimmicks.