Have you noticed that professional golfers are constantly walking around the course flipping open their yardage books? They are intently reading, analyzing and then shoving them back into their back pockets. If you’re big into research, you may have found pictures of a few pages of someone’s book. But if you’re not, you may not know exactly what they’re looking at. I used to wonder why pros looked at those books so much. I mean, haven’t they played these courses a bunch of times already? It wasn’t until I was able to start using those same books that I started to see how my game could adjust.
What do professional yardage books look like?
Well, let me show you! This yardage book has been the same yardage book I used at LPGA Qualifying School Stage 1. This is for the Dinah Shore tournament course where the ANA Inspiration is held, the first LPGA major of the year.
You can see that they’re pretty detailed. And all yardages, at least in this book, in bold are to the front of each green. The number in parentheses above that bold number is yards to the middle of the gree. Each significant tree is marked with a yardage. The curves in the fairways are marked with yardage. Front and backs of bunkers.
The (Y), (X) and (R) are actually spray paint marks that were in the fairway. Since there are no range finders and sometimes courses don’t have enough yardages written on the sprinkler heads, they’ll mark the fairways to make it easier to walk off yardage. The tiny plus (+) or minus (–) number that is next to the bold number indicates elevation. So let’s say the book says it’s 158 to the front with a +2 next to it. It’s slightly uphill, making it 160.
And then there are the arrows. So many arrows! Those arrows show you the slope. Whether you’re in the fairway or on the green, it shows you which direction the ground is going to move the ball. Pretty cool right?!
How yardage books help off the tee
Now you have seen all of the information that can go into a yardage book. You may be wondering why a pro may need all of this if they’ve already seen and played the golf course. Let’s go through it!
It’s true that most pros will play their practice rounds and come away with a game plan on each hole. Their game plan is written down in the yardage book. A hole-by-hole game plan starts with going backward from the green to the tee. I will look at the hole and if there is a “landing area” that is a larger area of the fairway and gives me the best shot into the green. If there isn’t a clear landing area, I will decide what club I am most confident will give me a short putt on my approach.
Once I have that club and corresponding yardage, I start to backtrack. I’ll take the total yardage of the hole minus the approach shot yardage I’d like. Whatever yardage I have left is going to be the yardage I need to hit off the tee and that corresponds to the distance I hit each club.
How yardage books help with approach shots into greens
The second part is the green view on a yardage book. Seeing the pin positions for the day will often change which side of the fairway I want my approach shot to come from. The other thing with a green view is which kind of putt you’d like to have after your approach.
Let’s walk through this.
The green slopes from back to front. Take the green and mentally separate it into 4 quadrants, easy to see in yardage books: top-left, top-right, bottom-left, bottom-right. If you get a pin position and it’s in the bottom-left, depending on how far away from the front of the green, you probably want to be below the hole or even with it. Otherwise, you start to leave yourself with a long downhill putt.
The other thing is you want to miss the shot on the right side of the pin for a couple reasons. One, this leaves you with a putt. If you miss left, there’s a good chance you’re off the green and short-sided. Two, you have left yourself with a right to left putt which is usually visually easier for a right-handed player.
That’s why they’re so important!
At the highest level, besides having good mechanics, it’s all about your process. Who can completely stay in their game plan, for every shot, and for 18 holes. It’s so hard to do! But getting a yardage book and plotting your way around the course makes it much easier. It’s rare that you see a pro really switch up their club on their tee shot unless the weather is playing a major factor or it’s a par 3 with a varying pin placement.
Having a yardage book creates consistency and fewer questions. It’s less to think about as you’re approaching your next shot.
Anna and Armana are two friends who met while playing professional golf on a mini-tour in Arizona. Read about their journey on their Graceful Golfer Blog and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Armana Chanel Christianson is from Nebraska originally. She started playing golf when she was 12 years old with her family, where it eventually grew to a love for the game. She competed in high school winning state and then played college golf at Creighton University and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Armana decided to continue her golf career and moved to Arizona. In January 2016, she turned pro and is working her way through the mini-tour circuit and the Symetra Tour.
Anna DePalma was born and raised in San Clemente, Ca. She found her passion for golf in Rancho Mirage, California at Mission Hills Country Club. She still dreams about jumping into Poppies Pond next to the 18th green on the Dinah Shore Course after one day winning the LPGA Major. She is currently competing on the Cactus and Symetra Tour.