If you’ve been watching and playing golf for long enough, no doubt you’ve seen PGA Tour pros and their caddies looking over a small book that seems to magically appear from the back pocket of every player.
But what is that book? What’s inside it? Is it magic? Does it hold the secrets to the game of golf? In short, none of the above; that little book is called a yardage book, and it contains every little detail about not only the course but each of the 18-holes in intricate detail. The yardage book is the very first thing both caddy and player pick up when they arrive at the tournament desk of a PGA Tour event.
As a former caddy and coach, I can tell you that the caddie’s priority is to know every inch of every hole before the tournament gets underway. Caddies are out walking the course long before any of the players arrive and long after they’ve gone back to the hotel for dinner. The caddy literally becomes the “go-to” authority on the “ins and outs” of the entire golf course.
PGA Tour pros and their caddies sit down before the tournament and each round to discuss a game plan and identify areas or holes they can attack and others they need to play more conservatively. These yardage books can quickly look like sketchbooks as both player and caddy scribble notes and draw their own diagrams to better understand each hole.
So a yardage book helps players and caddies play each and every shot with confidence and eliminates doubt, which can absolutely destroy the confidence of even the best players. PGA Tour pros want to look at the yardage book, trust what’s written down, and pull the trigger; in effect, they don’t want to think about the shot or “double-guess” themselves.
Can your average club golfer and high-handicapper benefit from a yardage book? Absolutely and in his article, we’ll look at some of the ways amateurs can improve their game by imitating the pros and learning to love the yardage book.
What is a Yardage Book?
The yardage book contains detailed information that allows the players and caddy to develop a strategy and game plan for the week ahead.
In short, a yardage book helps to eliminate the possibility of making mistakes that, for the pro golfer and caddy alike, could potentially mean the difference between a big paycheck or missing the cut and going home empty-handed.
In particular, the yardage book contains information and accurate measurements on the following
- The distance of each hole
- The elevation of the hole
- Measurements to bunkers and water hazards
- The undulations of the greens
- Previous pin positions and even
- Wind direction based on last year’s play
The yardage book also contains intricate sketches of the greens and fairways’ undulations and elevation. This information is critical because it allows players and caddies to plan the best positions to approach the green from and the best landing spots based on possible pin placements from last year’s tournament.
You won’t find one PGA Tour pro or caddy who walks onto the course in either a practice round or the real deal without the yardage book in their back pocket. When players are standing on the tee, they’re faced with several decisions, all of which can be affected by factors like the wind and the leaderboard. Players and caddies can refer to the yardage book to make quick and, more importantly, correct decisions.
PGA Tour pros and their caddies have in-depth knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, and the yardage book makes it much easier to visualize where the trouble lies and where the chances to attack are.
A yardage book would help amateurs immensely because the most common mistake they make is either coming up short or flying long over the greens; this is called “under or over” clubbing. Knowing exactly how far to the green or to a specific bunker would eliminate the vast majority of easy misses and give the club golfer much more confidence while addressing the ball.
Ask any PGA Tour pro, and they’ll tell you there’s nothing worse than hitting a pure long iron to the green only to see it fall agonizingly short and end up in the water hazard. The yardage book doesn’t eliminate this entirely, but it does help to mitigate it.
What PGA Tour Pros Write in their Yardage Book
Next time you watch golf on TV, observe how many times players and their caddies refer to their yardage books, and you’ll quickly find that it’s on every shot. Golf yardage books have extensive and detailed information about every hole, green, fairway, and bunker, to name a few.
But have you ever wondered what players and pros scribble down in their notebooks and why? Here’s a list of just some of the information players and caddies will jot down.
- The way certain putts break on each green
- Specific “trouble” spots they need to avoid
- A list of possible clubs they’ll use on each hole
- Targets to aim at from the tee, like a TV tower in the distance
- How the wind and weather may affect each hole
- Good landing spots off the tee
- Good places to lay up
When players and caddies arrive at the tournament, the PGA provides a yardage book that has been created by golf club management.
Occasionally, the yardage books are developed by a third-party group, generally ex-professional caddies who have an in-depth understanding of the course. In my experience, the yardage books created by former caddies are much more valuable and provide nuanced details of everything from green undulations and speeds to areas to avoid at all costs.
So let’s delve a little bit deeper into three areas that players and caddies focus their attention on in their yardage books:
- Tee shots
- Approach shots and the
Notes to Help with the Tee Shot
For those of us who play golf, we understand that the most challenging aspect of playing any new course is knowing where to hit your tee shots. You’re essentially “hitting blind,” especially if you’re playing on an undulating course or a hole that doglegs, meaning you can’t see your landing spot.
PGA Tour golfers can hit the ball both ways, meaning they can “fade” it and “draw” it but typically, they prefer one over the other, so knowing exactly where each hazard is, helps them to plan which club they hit off the tee and the shape they choose to play.
Knowing and picking out targets off the tee gives the player and caddy confidence in their shot and decision and helps them avoid potential disaster.
For example, if a right-handed player likes to fade the ball, meaning the ball will move from left to right, both player and caddy will pick out a target in the distance, such as a distinctive tree or even a TV tower to use as their guide. If the shot brings about the desired result, then the caddy and player will note it in their yardage books.
When tee shots are relatively straight, then targets off the tee are not necessarily crucial. Rather, distance markers such as specific trees, bunkers, or a TV tower will be very handy. Holes that demand tee shots over water require a target off the tee and a distance marker; both allow the golfer to swing confidently.
Dogleg holes are probably the hardest to navigate because you simply can not see the landing area as the fairway bends around the corner. In this instance, players and caddies rely solely on their yardage book. They would’ve taken detailed notes during their practice rounds prior to the start of play and relied heavily on them.
Players can hit tee shots well over 300-yards these days, which gives them the ability to “cut the corner” on many doglegs; cutting the corner is risky, but having detailed notes on the wind, targets, and fairway undulations can help mitigate some of the risks. In the case of howling winds or bad weather, the player and caddy will have two or possibly three backup plans for each hole.
Have you ever heard of the Chinese saying “the smart rabbit has three holes”? Well, PGA Tour pros and their caddies use this same philosophy on each hole they play. For example, the plan might have been to cut the corner by hitting the driver over the trees; however, when they arrive on the tee, the wind has changed, and now the better play is to take a shorter club and play more conservatively.
Notes to Help Approach Shots to the Green
Professional golfers have one fundamental goal in mind every time they play, and that’s to hit every green in regulation. This means they will have the chance to putt for eagle or birdie on each of the 18 holes; granted, even for the pros, this is a lot easier said than done.
Placing themselves consistently in the correct position in the fairway will allow them to attack the pin and capitalize on their approach shot by making the putt for a birdie. Without the yardage book, knowing where to “lay-up” and then approach the green would be nearly impossible; it would be guesswork; not exactly the precise details PGA Tour pros are looking for.
- One aspect of the pro’s game plan that amateurs would find fascinating is assessing the best place to approach the green. Pros equally focus as much attention, if not more, on knowing where to miss. Knowing where to miss is a smart way of approaching the green because it can help eliminate major catastrophes like having the ball roll back into a water hazard or a deep and treacherous bunker.
- Generally, the last thing golfers want to do is “short-side” themselves which means they have very little green to play with on their next chip or bunker shot. Short-siding yourself can be avoided by knowing the best places to miss. Meaning that if the shot you played didn’t go as planned, then hopefully, it misses in a place you have plenty of green to play with on your next shot; knowing where to miss can be the difference between getting up and down for par or taking double-bogey.
- Yardage books will also provide detailed information about the rough around the green. Obviously, players are looking to avoid the rough at all costs, so if a pin is cut tantalizingly close to the edge of a rough area, the pro is better opted to play conservatively for the center of the green. Again without the yardage book and the notes jotted down, approaching the green is pure guesswork.
- The next most important factor in determining the approach shot is the undulation of the greens. PGA Tour pros always prefer to putt on either a flat area of the green or slightly uphill, as both of these putts are much easier than putting downhill which can be notoriously quick. Chipping uphill is also much easier, as you can get the ball to “check” and stop much quicker.
- Before the tournament starts, players and caddies will play two or three practice rounds so they get to know the undulations and the slopes of each green. The yardage book is where they jot down their notes which they can refer to once play gets underway in the first round. Some of the notes are incredibly complex and intricate, depending on the caddy. At the same time, other players and caddies prefer simple details so as not to overthink too much and further complicate an already tricky shot.
Your strengths and weakness as a pro golfer also play a significant factor in where you want to “miss.” For example, a golfer who is an excellent bunker player might be more than happy to miss and play from the sand, while other players might prefer chipping and leaving their ball just short of the green. One thing is for sure, though, regardless of game style, every professional’s yardage book will have valuable information to help them make the right choice.
On occasion, the pin will be cut in a position where getting up-and-down by chipping and “one putting” will be much easier than two-putting; these particular holes will be noted by both caddy and player in their yardage book. This is also a good lesson for amateur golfers who think that hitting every green gives the best chance to make par.
For example, you might be playing an approach shot to a “two-tiered-green.” Let’s say the flag is cut on the lower tier, then the last thing you want to do is finish on the upper tier; this will make your putt almost impossible to stop anywhere near the hole. Both caddy and player can refer to their yardage book and pin placement sheet and plan to miss short, not long.
So as you can see, yardage books not only come in handy, but it would be fair to say that without them, players and caddies would have a much more difficult time trying to make the right decisions; one thing is for sure; scores would definitely be much higher.
Notes to Help with Putting
If you’ve been playing golf for long enough, you’ve heard of the saying “drive for show and putt for dough,” and when you look at the notes inside a pros yardage book, you’ll soon understand they live that very same mantra.
Now, although yardage books will have notes and diagrams on the undulations of the greens, most times their very basic, and pros generally want more detailed information when it comes to putting.
Some of the information pros want to know is:
- The speeds of the greens
- The way the grain of the grass grows
- Is there water located near the green? (E.g. If a water hazard is to the right of the green, this might suggest the green also runs in the same direction.
Players and caddies will take general notes such as “much quicker than we thought” and also more specific notes like “this putt breaks three cups to the left.”
As I’ve mentioned, the grain of the grass plays a significant factor in determining the outcome of a putt. Pros are very aware that putting into the grain is much slower than putting with the grain. A good rule of thumb is that putting with the grain, the greens will tend to look “shiny,” while putting against the grain, the greens appear much duller in color. Notes on the grain of the grass will definitely be found in the yardage books.
PGA Tour events are set up on the most challenging courses globally, and as such, reading greens is no easy feat. Often, the player’s and caddies’ eyes will “deceive” them, and this is where the value of the yardage book from previous years comes into play. Player and caddy can refer to putts from the same position in years gone by and use that as a guide; in this instance, the yardage book is invaluable.
Being able to refer to older yardage books helps to give both the player and caddy confidence that they’re making the right decision when choosing which line to putt on or the speed of a particular putt. There’s nothing worse than standing over a putt and “hitting and hoping,” especially when millions in prize money is at stake.
The 18th Hole
Well, there you have it; hopefully, you now understand the type of information that’s contained inside the yardage books of the PGA Tour pros and their caddies and why they are so valuable.
Most local clubs do have yardage books, and club-level golfers would benefit significantly from keeping detailed notes. It’s a great habit to get into and provides an extra layer of confidence when hitting your drive, approaching the greens, or making that putt for a birdie.
So next time you tee off, make sure you have your yardage book firmly in your back pocket.