How to Measure Distance on a Golf Course

From Tee to Green: How to Measure Distance on a Golf Course

We know how essential it is for professionals to precisely determine the distance their ball is from the green. 

If you’ve ever watched a PGA event, you’ve probably seen a caddy referencing a yardage book or pacing steps to determine the distance from the golf ball to the targeted landing area. Yardage books for professionals are so precise, they reflect distances within a half inch.

Most of us probably cannot regularly hit our shots with the accuracy of a professional, but nonetheless, learning how to measure distance on a golf course is essential.

In fact, this knowledge could be the difference between a par and a “pick it up and take an 8.”

I was playing a round of golf with my dad at his club in Connecticut a few years ago. We were on a long par 4 with a small pond positioned just in front of the green. I hit a less than acceptable tee shot that found its way to the right rough. My second shot became a lay-up instead of a long but reachable approach to the green. 

Because my dad is such a great golfer, I looked to him for the distance to the landing area.  He said, “grab your 8 iron, and lay up on the top of the hill just before the pond.” So, I took my 8 iron, executed a beautiful, sweet swing, and put the ball in the pond.

Had I been given a yardage rather than a golf club selection, I would have chosen a different golf club and could have had a miraculous par or respectable bogey rather than a “pick it up for an 8.” 

Knowing how to measure distance on a golf course is crucial for golf club selection. Let’s look at four methods to determine yardage on the course.

Measuring Distance from Tee to Green

The first (and easiest) way to determine yardage begins when you step on the tee box. 

A golfer can note the total yardage of the hole by referencing the score card or even looking at the tee box sign. Both the scorecard and the tee box sign will reflect the different colored tees associated with the hole.

Each pair of colored tees represents the total distance in yardage from the respective tee to the center of the green. The tees are often universal in color and meaning. 

Red Tees on a Golf Course
This course labels the (red) tees clearly and also includes a distance “disk” in the tee area.

Red is usually referred to as the Forward or Senior Tees (some will refer to red as the Ladies’ Tees, but there is a growing shift away from that label). These tees are positioned closest to the green and provides the shortest distance of play.

White is usually referred to as the Men’s Tees, usually played by the average ball striker and provides a mid-range overall distance of play.

Blue is usually referred to as the Men’s Advanced Tees, usually played by the longer ball hitter and provides the longest distance of play. 

Gold is usually referred to as the Championship Tees and is used for tournament play, providing the longest distance of play.

How to Measure Distance on the Fairway

After you hit your tee shot, you’ll want to know your yardage to the green for your approach shot on a par 4, or your landing area within 150 yards on a par 5 or the yardage to strategically positioned hazards. 

While in the fairway (or if you are like me, somewhere in the rough) there are two primary means to determine yardage. Most courses will have either a colored stake on the sides of the fairway and/or a colored disk in the center of the fairway. These different colored landmarks, called yardage markers or distance markers, represent varying distances to the center of the green.

  • A yellow stake or disk represents 250 yards to center of green
  • A blue stake or disk represents 200 yards to center of green
  • A white stake or disk represents 150 yards to center of green
  • A red stake or disk represents 100 yards to center of green.

In addition to the stakes and disks, some golf courses will include the specific distance in yards on the sprinkler heads in the center of the fairway. 

The Stride Method

Another way to estimate yardage is the pacing or stride method.

Let’s say you hit a great tee shot right down the center of the fairway and it lands short of the white stake on the side of the fairway or the white disk in the center of the fairway. You would know that you have at least 150 yards to the center of the green, but just how far?

Knowing that distance may be the difference between a golf shot that is too long or too short. 

To get a more accurate estimate of the yardage, pace the distance from your ball to the white marker.

For me, each extended stride is about 2ft. So, if I take 10 extended strides, I know I am about 20 feet (approx. 6.5 yards) away from the 150-yard marker, therefore I have approximately 166 yards to the center of the green. 

Now, I can confidently chose the right club for my approach shot. 

To determine your stride, simply place a tape measure on the floor. Place your toes at the beginning of the tape measure and take an extended stride as far as you can comfortably.  Wherever your toes land is your stride length.

Using a GPS Device or Golf Rangefinder

The stride method is great for a golf purist or those without access to one of man’s greatest achievements – electronic distance measuring devices.

We amateur golfers have an advantage that pro golfers do not have – the option to use a GPS device or rangefinder.

PGA rules state that professional golfers cannot determine distance using electronic or mechanical devices during PGA tournament rounds. This may change in the future, but for now, hackers like us have the upper hand.

There are various electronic measuring devices to assist you in determining the precise distance from our golf ball to the target.

The simplest is a golf GPS device like the Bushnell Phantom. The Phantom 2 features large, easy-to-read front, center and back distances of the green. It’s a nearly foolproof distance measuring device.

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  • Can't give distance to hazards or obstacles
  • Can't measure distance at the driving range
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There are a few advantages to a golf GPS device like the Phantom. 

The most significant advantage is that it will give you the distance to the green even if the you don’t have a clear line of sight. 

For instance, if your ball lies at the base of a large hill and the green is positioned on top of the hill yet out of view, the GPS device will give you the yardage to the green, bolstering your confidence to make a blind shot. 

The disadvantage of a GPS device like the Phantom 2 is that it may not give the yardage to all landmarks, trees or hazards. The other drawback to this device is its inability to produce any distance readings on the driving range.

The Cadillac of electronic devices is the laser golf rangefinder offered in the Bushnell Tour and Pro series. These measuring devices can be sighted on objects with accuracy, providing exact distance readings from ranges extended to 400 and 600 yards. 

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This measuring device has a number of pros, including accuracy of yardage to the pin regardless of where the hole is cut in the green. 

Another significant advantage is that it can be sighted on trees, landmarks, and hazards for accurate yardage readings. 

One final advantage to this device is its ability to give an accurate yardage reading on the driving range. 

The Drawbacks to Using a Rangefinder

Technology is great, but there are two notable drawbacks in using a rangefinder. 

First, the golfer will not be able to get the yardage from the ball to the pin when the green is hidden from sight. In this case, additional manual calculations must be performed. 

Second, and less to do with the product and more to do with the golfer, is the steadiness of the golfer’s hand. If a golfer cannot hold the laser device steady, it may be more advantageous to use the GPS device.

Why You Should Learn to Measure Distance on a Golf Course

It doesn’t matter where you golf, distance always matters.

If you step up to each tee box and just let it rip, you’re missing an opportunity to shave off a few strokes and improve your overall scores.

Knowing how to measure distance on a golf course is essential to improving and advancing your game. 

If you’re an amateur golfer, I would:

  • Pay close attention to the scorecard and tee box signs
  • Figure out how far you typically hit each club or consult a golf club distance chart
  • Memorize the fairway stake/disk measurements
  • Learn the stride method
  • Purchase a GPS device or rangefinder

After all, knowledge is power.

If you can follow these steps and put modern technology to use, you won’t need to rely on someone else’s golf club selection or miscalculations. 

In the end, you will hopefully avoid the “pick it up for an 8.”

Golf Course Distance FAQs

Is golf distance measured in feet or yards?

Golf distance is most often measured in yards, though some international courses may have the distance listed in meters. Golf distance is never measured in feet unless the distance being measured is on the green, from the golf ball to the hole.  Then, feet and inches are appropriate measurements. 

What devices can I use to measure yardage on a golf course?

Yardage can be measured electronically by a GPS device or a rangefinder.

A GPS device uses satellite technology to measure distance between the ball and the front, center and back of the green. 

A laser golf rangefinder emits a laser beam at the push of a button. The laser beam bounces off the distant target and returns to the golf rangefinder. Distance is calculated using a high-speed clock measuring the time taken to emit and return.     

How much does a rangefinder cost?

The cost of a rangefinder varies between $75-$600. The price is often determined by the device features which include reflective range, objective diameter, magnification, slope compensation, water resistance, waterproof, mounting, vibration feedback and the app that pairs with the unit.  

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