Do Golfers Need a Yardage Book?

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A yardage book can be very helpful to golfers of all playing abilities. But do casual golfers, weekend golfers, recreational golfers need one? No. What about top-flight golfers, golfers who take their games very seriously? Those golfers probably don't need a yardage book, but they might want one, and can benefit from having one.

The Yardage Book: What Is It?

First things first: What is a yardage book? A "yardage book" is a pamphlet or booklet, typically pocket-sized, whose pages contain detailed illustrations of each hole on a golf course. The illustrations show overhead views of each hole and denote yardages to and from hazards and landmarks on each hole, and to the putting green.

Some yardage books are quite fancy, printed on high-stock, glossy paper with full-color illustrations. Other are more basic, with black-and-white line drawings. Some are even homemade, with DIY yardage books available from such places as Amazon.

All serve the same purpose: to help the golfer plan his way around the golf course.

The primary purpose of the yardage book is, no surprise, to provide the golfer with yardages. On Hole No. 1, the illustration might show a hole that doglegs slightly left, that has fairway bunkers at 180 and 240 yards off the tee, that has a small pond in the rough right of the fairway at 200 yards. It might show the golfer that the distance from a certain tree to the putting green is 140 yards, and so on. The shape of the hole, the hazards on the hole, and important landmarks are all noted, and the golfer is provided with distances.

Those distances are usually provided as yards from the teeing ground, and then yards to the green. For example, a yardage book illustration of the fifth hole might show the golfer the yards to each of three possible landing spots in the fairway; to trees that might come into play on the drive; to bunkers or other hazards that endanger wayward drives. These yardages help the golfer plan the best possible way to play the hole, and (hopefully) to avoid danger.

Obviously, any given yardage book is specific to one golf course. Golfers who don't want to construct their own might find yardage books for sale in a golf course's pro shop. The more upscale a course is, the more likely it is to have yardage books printed and available.

Who Uses Yardage Books?

That question has multiple answers that include:
  • Great golfers who take their games very seriously and are out to post a score.
  • A golfer playing a particular course for the very first time and looking for some help getting around that course.
  • Any golfer who enjoys old-school approaches to the game.
  • Or anyone else who simply finds the idea of owning and using yardage books appealing. (Some golfers collect them and try to acquire as many from top golf courses as they can.)

Are Yardage Books Becoming Obsolete?

But do golfers, today, really need yardage books? Top-level golfers playing in high-level competitions — where rangefinders or GPS might not be allowed — do. All the tour pros and their caddies use yardage books regardless of access to rangefinders/GPS.

In the days before rangefinders and GPS devices and apps, yardage books were the only way, other than simply having local knowledge, of having, at your fingertips, detailed information about the way any given golf hole played or the slopes of a green or hidden hazards.

But for most golfers today, the advent of GPS for golf courses has made yardage books something of a 20th-century item.

Tody, many upscale golf courses, and even some downscale courses, provide video screens built into their golf carts that show on-screen what used to only be available through printed yardage books. And, of course, golf GPS units and golf GPS apps for smartphones provide the same information, often in a way that is easier to understand for many golfers than the traditional printed yardage book.

Those factors make yardage books less common in the game than they used to be. But they can still be very useful to any golfer. And creating your own can still be a fun (if exacting) way of really getting to know a golf course.

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