Calculate Yardages In High Altitude

How to calculate yardages when playing in higher altitudes and how it affects ball flight.

One of the PGA Tour stops last week was the Barracuda Championship in Reno Nevada. In the foothills of the mountains dividing Lake Tahoe and Reno was Montreux Country Club. This is a beautiful venue that's main challenge was gauging elevation changes and most of all, altitude. With the low points on the front nine reaching close to 5,000ft and high points on the back nine exceeding 6,000 feet in elevation, hitting the ball solid is only half the battle. The caddies and players have to be on their games this week when deciphering how far the ball will carry and how it will react on the green.

Having the opportunity to work with Lee McCoy at the tournament, I noticed three aspects of ball flight were affected most by the elevation.

Carry distance:  Steve "Pepsi" Hale, Lee's caddie and a true veteran on Tour(not to mention a native of Denver, Colorado) is no stranger to altitude being in the mile high city...he said, the general rule of thumb is for every 1,000ft in elevation there is approximately a 2% increase in ball flight. With an increase of nearly 12%, it is difficult to imagine the typical 100 yard shot carrying 112 yards with no added effort on the golfer's part.

Shot shape:  The higher elevation, the thinner the air so there is less resistance or friction for the ball's spin to grab on to.  There has to be much more effort to turn the ball over if you would like to hit a draw and visa versa if you're hitting a fade.

Spin control:  Very similar to the shot shape, with the lack of air density, the ball would not spin nearly as much on the greens. The other factor affecting this was the fact that the ball was in the air longer, therefore, the ball would lose some of its spin by the time it hit the ground causing the ball to release a lot more. 

Tips for Playing 

1.) After calculating the yardage, if in between clubs, take the lesser of the two, as it is generally better to be short of the hole as opposed to long.

2.) When having 2 clubs less in your hands than you would at sea level from the same yardage, trust the altitude and the fact that the ball will go farther. Our subconscious is funny, as many players won't believe the club in hand will get there, which leads to them over-swinging or forcing the shot leading to a poor result. 

A quick side note...If you would like to boost your ego, get out to the mountains to play some golf and watch your drives reach distances you never thought imaginable!