Are Driving Range Distances Accurate? Golf Balls are a Problem


Hitting golf balls at a driving range is a great way to improve your game and it’s often the most convenient location for a large number of golfers to get in some much needed practice.

But how good a place is it to judge what distances you are hitting the ball?

Given golf is a game of precise measurements, if you are deciding which club to play when you get to the golf course based on the distances you are hitting on the range it’s clearly important to know just how accurate the stated distances on a driving range actually are.

As a general rule driving range distances should not be considered accurate. Range golf balls often have a lower compression and more wear and tear than standard balls which impacts the distances they travel. The angles created by the arc hitting bays are set up on at ranges also impacts accuracy.

Being clear on how far you hit the golf ball with each of your clubs is vital to any standard of golfer’s golf game.

Choosing the wrong club for a shot based on getting your yardages wrong can mean the difference between hitting the green and missing it or worse ending up in a hazard.

And since for some golfers the majority of their practice takes place at the driving range it’s the obvious and main place where they start to work out how far they hit the ball.

Unfortunately however you need to be very careful if you’re deciding whether you are hitting the ball long and great or short and terrible based on a trip to the driving range as simply due to the geometry of the set up of the range itself and the range balls they make available to you the distances you see on the range can be a long way from reality.

Golf Range Balls Make Driving Range Distances Inconsistent

When it comes to the accuracy of the distances you see at your local driving range we need to make clear that any inaccuracies that exist aren’t there because the range owners are purposefully trying to deceive you.

On the contrary, driving ranges are set up to give all the golfers that are hitting there as accurate a measure of the yardage distances they are hitting the golf ball as they possibly can.

However the reality of doing business as a driving range and the size of the space available to hit shots leads to a set of variables which call into the question the accuracy of the distance it appears you hit the ball there.

And one of the main variables when it comes to hitting shots at the driving range is clearly the ball.

If you have played golf for any length of time, you will likely have your own brand and model of golf ball that you are loyal to. You know how it flies and have a pretty good idea of how it rolls and spins in a variety of different scenarios on the course.

Unless you are lucky enough to a be a member of a professional golf tour or a very posh golf club however the range balls you use are going to be different to the ones you play on the course and this has a big impact on the distances you find yourself hitting the ball at the range.

Golf range balls are most commonly comprised of ‘2-pieces’ – a hard cover and material inside and they can be a reduced ‘compression’ as low as 80 or even 70.

Premium golf balls, such as the Callaway’s Chrome Soft X or Titleist’s Pro V1x, are by comparison 4 or even 5-piece with softer covers and higher compressions which can measure over 100.

What’s this got to do with distance?

Well the number of layers and compression a golf ball has affects a large number of things. The spin rates, launch angles, ball speeds etc that the same golfer gets from different golf balls will vary and this can impact both the distance and flight of different shots with different clubs in different ways.

To demonstrate this Today’s Golfer tested of a range golf ball against a TaylorMade TP5x using a launch monitor to assess how the different balls measured up.

Source: Today’s Golfer

Not only did they find distance differences when their test pro hit the different golf balls but they also found different results with different types of clubs.

When hitting wedges for example the range balls went 16 yards further on average but when it came to the driver the TP5x ball was the one that performed better distance-wise carrying almost 10 yards further on average.

The detailed reason behind these differences has all to do with spin rates, launch angles and shot heights but the simple point to take away from such tests however is that to base your distances for the golf course on the accuracy of how far you are hitting the ball at the driving range is not a great idea.

Another factor to bear in mind also is that range balls also suffer much more wear and tear than the balls you use on the course. They get hit more often, picked up and knocked about by the tractor picking them up, and of course they also get washed over and over.

Any driving range regulars will have come across a range ball now and again where it has been used and washed so often that the dimples look to have almost completely worn away. And with that comes funny spins and strange ball flights which again affects distance.

And of course different driving ranges may have different types of range balls.

This we would repeat is not because the driving ranges are doing anything wrong but you have to keep in mind that they are a business and their business is not to make money off golf balls but to give you a great venue to practice hitting golf balls.

The reason behind the range balls they choose also can be entirely logistical.

Many ranges for example will actually use balls that are made to make sure you hit the ball shorter simply because the space they have available for the range is limited and they clearly don’t want lots of golfers knocking balls into adjoining properties or even roads!

The type of driving range mat which is used at your local range can also affect the distance you hit the ball there compared to the course.

So all in all when it comes to how accurately the distance you hit the golf ball at the driving reflects how far you hit it on the course be aware that the golf ball which is available to you at the range has a big impact.

Geometry Needs Taken Account of For Driving Range Distances

No matter how many driving ranges you have practised at in your life, you will have noticed that they all have a different number of hitting stations or bays.

The total number of bays has of course a lot to do with the size of range of itself. The more land there is available for the range the more hitting stations there will be for people to hit some balls and practice their golf game.

And this feature of a driving range infrastructure has an affect on the accuracy with which you can precisely measure the distances you are hitting the ball as their are angles to take into consideration.

If for example you are hitting the bay at the far right of the driving range and your ball unfortunately soars 30 yards left to land towards the left-hand side of the range the distance marker it is closest to can’t be an entirely accurate measure of the yardage you have hit the ball.

Driving ranges of course try and get round this problem but having different sets of distance markers lined up and meant for use by different bays across the range but there is never going to be one of set of markers for every single bay so it’s clear the distance markers can never be relied on for precise yardages.

There are therefore always angles to take into consideration and angles don’t make for exact distance measurements unfortunately.

You also have to take into account any arc that is present on a driving range when it comes to assessing distances.

Again in a perfect world all the driving range bays would all be set up along a straight line and whilst this would still not give an absolutely precise measure of the distances you are hitting the ball at the range, it would still be reasonably good although never precise.

The reality at a lot of driving ranges however is that are set up in some type of arc. And if there us an arc the degree of that arc is something that has to be taken account of when it comes to measuring distance.

You only need to think of a standard running track here and how the start positions for different runners is staggered for sprint events like the 200m and 400m are staggered based on their lane to ensure they are all running exactly the same distance.

As we’ve mentioned driving ranges do try and get round this problem by having mutliple sets of distance markers lined up as best as they can to a number of bays across the arc but they are not lined up in a straight line to all the bays and as such the accuracy of the distance measure for different bays on the arc is compromised accordingly.

Whilst clearly its not going to be 30-40 yards out the distance markers on the driving range cannot be an accurate measure for all the golfers on the range.

And as any golfer knows sometimes only a couple of yards, never mind 5 to 10 can make a massive difference when it comes to getting into trouble on the golf course.

How Do You Measure Accurate Distance at the Driving Range

Knowing how far you hit the ball is crucial in golf. Getting your distances wrong and choosing the wrong club can lead to deep trouble only on the basis of a yard here or there of misjudgement.

But if you only have access to driving ranges to help you practice and measure how far you hit each club to help you when you reach the golf course the problems we’ve already covered on doing this accurately on the range obviously present a problem.

Thankfully however technology has come to the rescue again in recent times and there are some options now to help golfers to combat the inaccuracy of driving range distances. And this technology comes in the form of rangefinders.

There are basically two types of rangefinder – Laser and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices – and both can be used to accurately measure distance.

Laser rangefinders are so-called for the simple reason that they use a laser to calculate the distance to a specific point. They work similarly to a pair of binoculars and all you need to do is look through the eyepiece to focus on a target, press a button and the rangefinder will give you a yardage.

So on the driving range if you were aiming for a specific target on the range you can simply point and press to determine instantly how far the target is away from your hitting bay irrespective of the arcs and angles.

And the great news is laser rangefinders are incredibly accurate with some models accurate to within 1/10th of a yard!

GPS rangefinders by comparison measure distances based on satellites and will display yardages to specific points on the screen of the device.

It’s important to bear in mind though that GPS devices are not considered as accurate as laser rangefinders. They can be inconsistent at times which is what we are trying to avoid at the driving range and is something to take into consideration.

Neither rangefinder is the perfect option of course as you will still have the problem we have already covered of the affect that the range ball has on the accuracy of the distances at the driving range but it’s something to think about if the range is the only option you have to accurately measure how far you are hitting the ball.

[Note – We have put together a detailed break down of the differences between laser and GPS rangefinders including the main functions and features to consider if you decide to buy one which you can check out here.]

If your driving range has a club fitting service you could also potentially ask if the range provides a service which lets you use their launch monitor to accurately assess your hitting distances.

And given they are going to know exactly what type of range balls are being used, and how they match up to the ball you use on the course, this can be a good option to get a more precise read out of the distances you hit at each club at the driving range.

Increasingly also many driving ranges are beginning to install technology like ‘Toptracer’ to combat this age-old problem of inaccurate driving range distances.

Toptracer works via a series of cameras and tracks the balls hit from any bay on the range until it lands. The software then send all the distances back to your phone or sometimes screens which are installed in the hitting station you are playing from.

This then takes all the guesswork out of driving range sessions by offering distance measurements to golfers individually.

Now a quick read of many golf forums will bring up lots of golfers talking about the inaccuracies they find when practicing at a driving range with Toptracer technology but tests by multiple YouTubers seem to suggest that Toptracer is pretty accurate even when put up against top of the line launch monitors.

So if you’re lucky enough to play at a driving range which has this sort of tech available in your hitting bay it looks like this is a good option for getting an accurate assessment of your hitting distances, especially if you are averaging out the distance results over a number of shots.

Just don’t forget even with this though that you need to know how the range ball you are hitting compares to the golf ball you typically use on the course!

Final Thought

Driving ranges as any golfer knows are great places to get some much needed and often more convenient practice in.

There are however clear challenges to relying on the distances you appear to hit the ball on the driving range when you get to the golf course.

Unless therefore you are hitting every shot on the range with the same ball you use on the course and have access to accurate technology it’s probably better as a general rule to focus on ‘distance gaps’ rather than distances when you get to the range.

You want regular distance gaps between each of the clubs in your bag and these should be consistent at the driving range and on the golf course even if the precise measurements at both of these venues may differ for the reasons we’ve covered.

And one thing to bear in mind also given the impact we can see that a driving range ball can have on distance, flight, spin rates etc compared to a regular golf ball is to make sure any golf club fitting you get done at a driving range is carried out using the ball that you play with regularly on the course!

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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