One of the key advantages pro golfers take onto any golf course is preparation.
They are clearly superb golfers and massively more skilled than amateurs but how they prepare to play a golf course is another major differentiator from regular players and one vital aspect of that for many Tour pros is the information and notes they have in their yardage book.
As a whole pros have information on wind direction, yardages to and from various targets, fairway and green elevation changes, and images and diagrams of holes in their yardage books. Pros also add reminder notes specific to their own game and details collected during practice rounds or past tournaments at the same course.
The depth of information that PGA Tour pros have in their yardage books is incredible and to the layman it can often look like a baffling array of numbers and notes which belong more in an academic textbook rather than a golf notebook.
The volume of information in pro yardage books has also got ever more complex over the years and added to this myriad of numbers that already come in a yardage book issued at a PGA Tour event individual caddies and players will then add their own notes based on past experience and their practice rounds.
Indeed some players, like the great Tiger Woods, add notes based on where TV towers and grandstands have been placed in past tournaments!
However the rules on what players can and can’t write in their yardage books have changed and may change again in the future.
Also different pros have different relationships with yardage books.
While some feel they can not live without them others prefer not to carry one at all on the basis that they believe they do them more harm than good!
“I don’t know if I could actually play the golf course (The Old Course at St Andrews) without the TV towers because in all my yardage books it’s all based on grandstands and TV towers for alignment. We check them as we play our practice rounds to make sure they are in the exact same spots as they were. If not you shift your [aiming] lines over.”Tiger Woods (Source: The Open)
PGA Tour Yardage Books Are Accurate to Half an Inch!
The yardage books the pros have in their back pocket have come a long way.
In the 1970s nobody really had any real measurements to carry about notebooks and often relied just on pacing out certain shots.
Then caddies such as Pete Coleman, who worked for many major champions including Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, started to bring their expertise from outside of golf into the game and used measuring wheels to put together much more accurate and reliable yardage books.
Since that time the technological revolution which has hit golf clubs has also hit the world of yardage books and today multiple devices, including drones and high tech surveying instruments, are used to put together notebooks which contain all the details about a golf course the pros could ever want.
On the PGA Tour, pros and caddies have relied on the yardage books of Fred Funk’s former caddie Mark Long for over 20 years and these have an incredible amount of information in them including:
- Photo of the hole from the tee
- Alternative overview diagram of the tees, the fairway and green
- Wind direction compass
- Yardages to and from various areas to the front, middle and other specifically identified points on the green.
- Different points of elevation
- Close ups of the greens illustrating contours and yardages.
Indeed pro yardage books are so precise that the detail included for every hole is unique as different points are used to provide reference yardage points.
“[PGA Tour yardage books] are half an inch accurate …. We have to map the golf course and there’s different sources of information. We can use an aerial photo now and then. We can fly a drone to get information. We have surveying instruments; that’s our main thing. We literally walk around and map the outline of a fairway or map sprinker heads and things like that. All that goes in out of a (computer-adied-design) program.”Mark Long, producer of PGA Tour Yardage books
So much data and information are now available about PGA Tour golf courses that in recent times separate ‘greens books’ have been produced, in addition to the full hole yardage books, to provide exact details about the contours of each and every green.
Examples of the images included in these ‘greens books’ are shown below and amazingly these are put together through the use of a laser which measures each green to within one-eighth of an inch of accuracy!
And the quest for the perfect information in pro yardage books does not end there as every year these books are updated to record any changes that have been made at the course since the tournament was played the season before.
This is also not mentioning the ‘pin sheet’ which is provided to the pros each day of tournament play which includes how far the pin is from the centre of the green and from the edges of the green it is closest too!
[Editor’s note – Yardage books at Augusta for the Masters are different to the standard PGA Tour ones and only give one yardage from specified fairway spots to the front of the green]
Things don’t stop there however when it comes to the information the pros have in their yardage books.
The yardage books which are issued on the PGA Tour for each event are just the start. Each individual player and caddie can then start to add more notes to them specific to how they want to play the hole.
At its most basic some pros and caddies will simply transfer the information from the day’s pin sheet into the yardage book while others will make important reminders they don’t want to forget when they reach that hole.
A great example of this is the image below from Collin Morikawa’s yardage book for the famous par-3 12th hole at Augusta where he quite clearly does not want to forget that lots of great players have found a watery grave by aiming too far right on that green!
Others, including the great Tiger Woods, will add notes to their yardage books in relation to where they want to aim based on where grandstands and TV towers are positioned and will then check whether they have moved from the previous tournament when they return a year or number of years later.
As a consequence some pros yardage books can be seen as a bit of a time capsule recording the yardages, how a course was set up and what different clubs and approaches to holes they took in a specific tournament and year.
Indeed some pros such as Ian Poulter have made a feature out of all their yardage books in their homes! Check out the video below!
Different Pros Use Yardage Books in Different Ways
A yardage book is handed to every pro and caddie at the start of every tournament.
And given the detailed information which they include you may think that all the pros carry them in their back pocket and refer to them constantly throughout their round.
However just like every pros swing is different, individual pros use yardage books in different ways.
Some pros rely on them totally, see them as a vital tool and will add a huge amount of extra notes to the already massive amount of data they already include when handed over to them.
“My head’s in [my yardage book]. I’m always looking at yardage books … I feel like the yardage book is really crucial to kind of know where you want to position the golf ball, how far you want to hit off the tee and what club you need to use.”Former Masters Chamption, Patrick Reed
Former Masters champion Patrick Reed for example says he is constantly looking at his yardage book while former USPGA champion Keegan Bradley uses it as a key part of his routine taking it out and checking it for every shot.
He also uses it as a guide adding extra notes to it such as “one shot at a time” to help remind him to stay focused.
Others, including 2-time PGA Tour winner Matt Jones, not only use them as much as they can but also use them in co-ordination with their caddies with both using their own individual notebooks on every hole to get a yardage and then cross-checking their numbers to confirm they are right.
There are then other groups of pros however who actually don’t use their yardage books at all and rely entirely on their caddies to give them the correct yardage and details for every shot they play.
2-time Masters Champion, Bubba Watson, former British Open Champion Shane Lowry and 4-time major winner Brooks Koepka are examples of pros who don’t carry a yardage book for a variety of reasons.
Brooks Koepka for example used to carry a yardage book but stopped because he felt he got too detail-orientated as a result and it led him to focus too much on the negatives, such as where all the bunkers and hazards were, before each shot.
Bubba Watson doesn’t carry one meanwhile because he feels he remembers everything well enough in his head from past tournaments and indeed tests himself each tournament against his caddie who carries a yardage book complete with details from the last 5 years!
“I don’t carry a yardage book. Teddy (caddie) carries that thing around. Teddy writes down the last 5 years roughly until a new yardage book comes out but I remember it all. I can tell him 7 years ago what club we hit, which way the wind was going and he’ll look in his book and go. Yeah, you’re right.”2-time Masters Champion, Bubba Watson
And the different habits and quirks between pros and their yardage books don’t end there.
The great Tiger Woods for example will always carry his yardage book in his back right pocket but if he’s only carrying a pin sheet without a yardage book then he will place the pin sheet in his front left pocket!
So as you can see while all the pros and their caddies get issued with yardage books they all use them in whatever way they feel will allow them to play their best.
What Pros are Allowed to Write in Yardage Books Has Changed
Technology, in the same way it has done with golf clubs, has transformed the yardage books pros use.
High tech survey instruments, lasers and even drones are now used to put together the supremely detailed yardage books PGA Tour pros and their caddies carry around but one thing that has not changed is the additional notes players and caddies add to their notebooks.
However much information they have contained in the past up to the present day pros and caddies have always written extra notes in their yardage books.
As a general rule golfers write notes in their yardage books that are specific to their game and course strategy. Added details include wind strength and direction, clubs played, club speeds and spin rates recorded in practice rounds and past years’ events. Reminder notes on how to play the hole are also often written.
However like the distance debate in golf many people have become concerned about the level of detail now included and available to be added as notes to yardage books believing that is reducing the amount of skill required.
As a result in 2022 the PGA Tour introduced a new ‘player driven’ rule that not only reduced the information available to pro golfers and their caddies about the greens on a course but also the type of handwritten notes they would be allowed to add to their yardage books.
From 2022 onwards PGA Tour pros and their caddies will therefore be given a ‘Tour approved’ yardage book at every event they play and although it will contain the same information from tee to green the data provided when it comes to the greens has been hugely reduced.
All the detailed information shown in the example green images above has been removed and the green diagrams in the new yardage books only include the shape and depth of a green, as well as small lines and arrows that highlight any slopes that measure 4.5% or more.
In addition pros are only able to add handwritten notes about the greens that come ‘directly from the naked eye.’
As a result golfers and caddies can add handwritten notes about greens and slopes only if it has been gathered with their own eyes and not if it has been told to them by someone else or been gathered with the help of slope-reading technology.
This rule change about handwritten notes has in particular proved controversial as lasers, launch monitors and another tech can still be used anywhere other than on the greens to measure and add notes on distance or slope percentage or any other data the pro wants.
“The purpose of this rule is to return to a position where players and caddies use only their skill, judgment and feel along with any information gained through experience, preparation, and practice to read the line of play on the putting green,” said a memo the PGA Tour sent to players.
However many, including the youngest member of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Teachers in America” Chris Como and renowned putting coach Phil Kenyon, have questioned the sense of the new handwritten notes rule on the basis of it only being applied to putting and the greens and not other areas of the course.
“What a ridiculous rule. It’s stupid in fact. It serves no purpose. It’s indeed skill limiting.” wrote Kenyon on Twitter and this comment was quickly agreed with by Bryson DeChambeau who has long been a big believer in a data-driven approach to golf.
Chris Como added: “Anything that impedes innovation of thought or practices takes away from the beauty of the game. I think it’s a mistake to go down the ‘if you’re going to do it in putting do it across the board’ rabbit hole. Just don’t do it!!! One of the great joys of this game is the endless treasure hunt of finding small edges that add up over time.”
Whether the rule remains or not however one thing is clear.
Pros and their caddies will continue to write any handwritten notes into their yardage books that they feel will help their game and are within the rules of the game.
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