The Art and Meaning of Yardage Books

Ashley Mayo, writing at golfdigest.com, has published certain pages from Dustin Johnson’s yardage book for the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am just completed (if you click the link, it’ll open a new window and you can follow along with my references to it). His caddie, Austin, who doubles as his brother (or maybe the other way around depending on how formal their working relationship is), allowed Ashley to not only look through the book, but to photograph each page.

Ashley does a good job of describing the nature of Austin’s notes in the book, but I thought you also might be interested in how they are put together, how the depictions are laid out and what they mean.

Back when I was Monday qualifying on the Champions Tour, the books were meticulously put together by former caddies because they know what the caddies need to support their player. The going price was $20, a nice haul if all 144 players and caddies bought one. The most important information on each page is: 

  • Distances from the back of the back tee to obvious features of the hole, primarily bunkers; how many yards to the bunker and how many yards to carry it. The same for water hazards, etc.
  • These distances are all measured with lasers using reflectors. They can do it by putting reflectors out at the beginning and end of each bunker and shooting them from the tee or by putting a reflector on the back of the tee and shooting backwards from each bunker.
  • The sprinkler head yardages each have two numbers: the yardage on the sprinkler to the middle of the green is in light print and in parenthesis and the number to the front of the green is the bold number.

The caddies don’t care what the sprinkler says because it could be wrong; it’s only used to identify each sprinkler. They only care about the front yardage from each sprinkler because they know that was shot by a laser to a reflector on the front edge of the green by an expert (and even then they’ll confirm them during practice rounds if something looks off; shoot the flag with a laser and then pace back to the front of the green to confirm the front yardage).

By using the day’s pin sheet prepared by the Tour, they add the front yardage from the sprinkler to how many yards the pin is from the front of the green to get the total yardage. Then all they have to do is pace off from the ball to the sprinkler to get the ball’s exact yardage.

All of this is reflected at the top of the page for the 2nd hole:

  • On the left side of the page is a high-level depiction of the entire hole which gives the bunker yardages and the shape of the fairway.

Note that down in the teeing area, there are also yardages from the back of each tee to the back of the back tee. In the event the Tour moves the tee blocks up a tee or two, all of the carry yardages can be adjusted on the fly by the caddie without having to pace it off all the way to the back tee.

  • There is a compass rose indicating north so that with a weather forecast, the caddie can estimate how each hole will be affected by the wind.
  • On the right side of the page are all the sprinkler yardages from the fairway beyond the bunkers including from the very end of the fairway (84 yards).

On the bottom page for the 2nd hole is a green diagram.

  • It shows how the green is nestled between the two bunkers and how the land moves down to the green.
  • It shows a marker on the front of the green to indicate where the front of the green is considered to be and where all the yardages are measured to.
  • It shows the depth of the green (29 yards) which is useful to calculate how many yards are behind a back pin.
  • And it also shows any secondary carry yardages. In this case it shows that the green bends right 17 yards from the front, useful information when the pin is back right.

Below the green diagram is the depiction of the tee shot landing area.

  • Not only do you have the front yardages on the sprinklers, you have the distance back to the back of the tee from each one.
  • And now the yardages on the same bunkers in the overview of the hole have been changed to reflect the distance to the front of the green from the beginning and end of each bunker.

The overview depiction of the 3rd hole on the top of the next page is very cool because it shows what the players’ “sight lines” are to each bunker. And it shows the carry yardage to the fairway and then the fairway run out to the bunker on that line. For the bold who want to smash it over the trees towards the green, you have to carry it 311 to reach the fairway. The top of the page also shows the close-in sprinklers for those who are successful.

The bottom of the 3rd hole page shows the green diagram, 28 deep with a right edge carry of 16 and below that, all the sprinklers out by the fairway bunkers.

The third page of the book is for the par-3 5th hole.

The par-3 depictions have a sort of primitive look to them because it’s just the green diagram and the tee footprints and yardages. Again they are all front yardages and in this instance, measured from each of the yardage plates on each of the tees (white, green, blue and black with an arrow indicting the red in the event a player had to take a drop there). The Tour is famous for changing things up on a hole by moving the tees up, but they give you fair warning.

When the Tour sets up the course, they put a yellow dot on the back tee indicating that the tee blocks won’t be any further back than that. In the event that they are thinking about moving the blocks way up one day, they will add an arrow pointing forward on the yellow dot. And then they will put a yellow dot with an arrow pointing backwards indicating that the blocks will be no further forward than that. So you hit your practice round shots from both dots.

And it isn’t always just a yardage thing, it could also be an angle thing. One Q-School in San Antonio, because the tees were strung across the water’s edge of the pond, the back tee gave you a shot across the green and the short tee gave you a shot up the spine of the green. They love doing stuff like that.

The 9th hole diagram is interesting because of ambiguity from which tee the carry yardages are measured. On the top of the page it makes clear that they are measured from the back of the second tee with an emphasizing arrow point at it (the back tee appears to be on the other side of the bisecting cart path, presenting cumbersome logistics during a big tournament). But on the bottom page the note says the tee shot distances are measured from the third tee. In the first instance, it’s the second tee up and in the second instance it’s probably the third tee back, although that’s exactly the kind of thing the caddie will sort out in practice rounds or by asking the producer.

The rest of the pages are just more of the same, although you might want to take a look at the green diagram for the 17th hole to see the importance of knowing exactly where the front and back of the green are considered to be. In this instance the front is way over short right and the back way over long left.

This is so important that the Tour will put a yellow dot in each spot on each green, the front one being most important because that’s where the Tour paces from to determine the yardages on the pin sheet. (Late Addition: However, the depth of the green isn’t measured diagonally between the two dots. Imagine two parallel lines; one across the front of the green and the other across the back. The depth of the green is measured on any perpendicular line between the two.)

I hope this wasn’t information overload, but I’ve always been fascinated with yardage books and what could be divined from them. I still have every one I’ve ever had, and in idle moments, I’ll pick one up and go through it again.

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One Response to The Art and Meaning of Yardage Books

  1. Guy Ruthmansdorfer says:

    This is amazing. I just saw a tweet by Ian Poulter about how he found his yardage book for the World Match Play event next week. I thought what a great idea for Bill to right about yardage books. Something we all see watching golf but know very little about. I open my emails today and here is an article about YARDAGE BOOKS. How crazy great minds think alike. Does that make you Nostrodomus? If so predict a huge lottery win for me. We can share the money and play DM everyday.