When watching a golf tournament one of the first things you will notice a player doing is either looking at or writing in their yardage book. Golf yardage books are very important to professional golfers, helping them make decisions during tournament play. What do golfers write in their notebooks?
Golfers will write several types of notes in their yardage books, such as:
- How putts break on each green
- Places on the course they want to avoid
- What clubs to hit on each hole
- Targets to aim at on each hole
- How the course plays in regard to wind and weather
- Other general observations and notes
A yardage book is provided to each player by the golf course management. The golf course will provide general information on each hole. The information a golf course provides can differ between courses, but in general they will provide slopes of greens, size of the greens, and length of each golf hole.
While golfers get that general information from the course, they will want to add plenty more from their own experience playing the course. Let’s dive deeper into what golfers write in their yardage books and discuss the strategy behind it.
What Do Golfers Write in Their Notebooks?
As discussed above, golfers will write notes in their yardage books about clubs, hole locations, target points and other general observations. Here are some examples of what a golf yardage book looks like.
In the next sections let’s dive into these three specific examples below of what golfers write in their yardage books:
- Notes about the greens
- Notes about approach shots
- Notes about driving the golf ball
Writing Notes About the Greens
While the yardage book from the golf course will provide the golfer with the general direction the green will break and degree of the slopes, a golfer will likely provide more specific notes based on his or her own personal experience.
Golfers sometimes write general comments like “the back right hole location breaks more than I thought.” Golfers will also write more specific notes about hole locations such as “breaks two cups.”
They will also take notes comparing green speeds to what they thought they would be, for example, “putting down hill was much faster than I thought” or “putting up hill was much slower than I thought”.
When professional golfers are reading greens, they not only read the slope but also the grain of the grass. When talking about green reading, the grain is the direction the grass grows.
This is important because the direction that the grass grows will cause the golf ball to break in that same direction. This can also change throughout the day as the grass grows. So golfers will also make notes on how the grain affects the putt.
In general, golfers know they will probably make the same reads and same speed expectations the next time they putt on these greens. On many of the courses professional golfers play on, the greens are very difficult to read. Often times golfers will have to rely on experience and their notes rather than what their eyes and feet are telling them. Relying on notes keeps them from making the same mistakes over and over again.
If they can rely on notes that remind themselves of previous misreads or confirm that their natural read is correct, it gives them conviction and a much greater chance of making putts.
Reviewing quality notes from past experiences inspires golfers to have confidence in their reads. When golf commentators interview golfers that are successful, one of the most common themes those successful golfers cite is being confident on the greens. Any type of edge helps, and good quality notes are certainly an edge.
In 2019, the USGA implemented new rules about the size-to-scale ratio of green-reading diagrams that can be used in yardage books – the diagram must be limited to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards (source). The size of the yardage or greens book itself must also be limited to 7 inches x 4.25 inches in size. To read more about the rules surrounding green-reading material, click here.
Notes About Approach Shots
Golfers have the goal to hit every green in regulation (or better), which means they would have a putt for birdie or eagle on every hole. If golfers consistently put themselves in position to make birdie in golf, good things will happen.
Although this is their goal, it rarely happens. Knowing this, golfers will often times talk about ‘what the proper miss is’. What golfers mean by that is if they miss the green with their approach shot, there are certain areas around the green where they would prefer their golf ball ends up.
Typically, a golfer will want to leave themselves with a lot of the putting surface between where their ball ends up and the where the flag is (because they want to provide their golf ball enough room to stop when they make their next shot).
Golfers also know where there is worse rough around the green and if certain bunkers are really hard to get up and down out of (click here for my article describing in detail what an ‘up and down’ is in golf). Additionally, the slope of the green will weigh heavily into where they want to miss.
In general, if a golfer misses a green they want to leave themselves an uphill slope to the hole. This makes it much easier to stop the ball near the hole versus having the chip shot land on the green and run downhill past the hole. Trying to stop a golf ball rolling down hill on a green is difficult, and sometimes impossible if there is not enough green to work with.
So with this mind, golfers will know the slopes of the greens and where the flag is for that particular day and often times will play an approach shot that if they don’t pull it off, it will likely end up in a good spot to get up and down.
Golfers will make notes to remind themselves where the best places to miss are around each green. Each golfer will be different in this regard.
For example, some golfers are really elite at bunker play. So if they are going to potentially miss a green, they will often times prefer to miss in a greenside bunker rather than the rough. But some other golfers are great at chipping the ball, so they will prefer to either miss short in the fairway or in the rough where they have a lot of the green between them and the hole.
No matter the golfer, they will have notes where they prefer to miss a green. And not only will golfers know where they want to miss a green, they will also know certain areas of the green they don’t want to hit it and leave their ball.
Sometimes, the hole is in a spot on a green where it will actually be easier to get up and down from off the green than to two-putt from on the green. So golfers will know in a situation like this that distance is more important than accuracy.
An example of this might be when golfers play a two-tiered green. If the flag is on the lower tier it may be extremely hard to putt from the upper tier and get the ball to stop anywhere near the hole (because it is rolling downhill to the hole). So golfers will make a note that being short of the green or even missing right or left is much better than to go long, even if long is on the green.
That would be an example where a competing golfer would look into his or her notebook and see that they have a note written that says missing long on the green is a bad miss, and so they will know to not hit a club that has a chance of going long.
With approach shots, golfers are always thinking about and making notes about where they want their next shot to be played from. A professional golfer would not stand a chance on premium courses if they did not play this way.
Taking Notes for Driving the Golf Ball
If you have ever played a golf course for the first time, you will know that it can be really hard to find aiming points of where you want to hit your ball simply because you don’t know the course. Most professional golfers like to either draw or fade the golf ball off the tee.
Elite golfers will be comfortable hitting both a draw and a fade, but while most professionals are capable of hitting both, they will prefer one shot type over the other.
When deciding where to aim and shape their shot, golfers will pick an object in the distance to aim at. For example, a right-handed golfer that hits a fade (a shot that starts left and moves to the right) will want to pick a target in the distance that is on the left-hand side of the fairway (because the ball would start at that far left target then shape back towards the hole). Once the golfer has executed a shot on a hole to his or her liking, they will often note what their target was.
On holes that are straight or have very little bend off the tee, a golfer won’t really need any notes to find an object to aim at. When a hole has a big bend in it or requires a shot to carry over a hazard, golfers will want to know what a good target is for their driving ability.
On these holes, this is where experience and great notes come into play. Not only for knowing what to aim at, but also for knowing what club to hit off the tee.
With the long distances that professional golfers hit the ball nowadays, golfers must weigh the benefits of being more accurate vs getting maximum distance. Typically, golfers are more accurate with clubs that go shorter distances.
So sometimes a golfer may hit a long iron or a 3 wood off the tee (clubs that won’t travel as far as drivers). When hitting these clubs, they will likely have a different aiming point than they would with a driver. Golfers will typically have a strategy how they want to play each hole and stick to that strategy.
Though sometimes that strategy may change due to weather or their position in a tournament. So professional golfers will want to have detailed notes on where to aim with different clubs for different situations. Having notes that provide aiming targets and what distances can be expected on their second shot is key for professional golfers to be ready to manage all that a golf tournament will throw at them.