Golfing Old-School: Measuring Distance

Old School Golf Clubs.

Playing golf old-school does not always mean hitting hickory shafts, wearing knickers, or wearing a waistcoat. There is so much more to old-school golf than the equipment we use. Specifically, measuring distance. It’s a lost art, but one I am fortunate to have learned when I first started playing. Measuring distance on the golf course is akin to sitting through an advanced mathematics class: simple if you understand the process, but befuddling if you have not clue what you are doing!

Measuring distance on the golf course involves adding, subtracting, estimating, algebra, geometry, and physics. Many of these are second nature to anyone over the age of 45, but to those young players, I might as well be speaking a foreign language. The advent of the computer has allowed many young golfers to become reliant on their smartphone to figure out the simplest math questions. Golfing old-school does not allow for outside devices to aid in finding yardage. It is a unique skill on its own.

If you are wondering how good amateurs are at measuring distance, this poll is for you.

Determining accurate yardage is important to select the most appropriate club. There are three specific areas I focus on to ensure I am successful. Each has its own set of steps that I have honed over years of use to fit my game. However, they are universal enough that they can be adapted to your game if you so choose.

Establishing a 1-yard pace.

This seems like an odd first requirement, but to accurately determine yardage you need a 1-yard pace. I established my pace in 1984 at basic training. Being able to read a map and pace distances is critical for many aspects of military action. So, the training staff taught us a 1-yard pace. We spent an entire afternoon (it seemed longer) walking a hundred yards counting each step. Once we could walk the 100 yards 3 times in a row at between 98 and 102 paces, we could rest. Learning how to take a step that is 1 yard long has made a significant impact on my ability to measure distance old-school.

Understanding angles in the fairway.

Most courses have 200, 150, and 100-yard markers in the middle of the fairway. The occasional course has their markers in the rough, which means I need to adjust my angle alignment accordingly. When measuring a distance in the fairway, it is important to realize what side of the fairway your ball sits in relation to the shape of the hole. Assume I am even with the 150-yard marker: if I am on the right side and the hole is a dogleg right, the distance to the green is shorter. If I am in the same spot as the above example and the hole is a dogleg left, then my distance to the green is longer. I need to adjust my angle according to the ball position and the shape of the hole to accurately measure the distance to the green.

Calibrating your distances.

When walking to my ball, I align myself with the ball and the hole. I start to establish the distance of my next shot at the back marker (if the ball is sitting between the white and red markers, start this process at the white marker). I pace the distance to my ball and come up with a number. Then I pace off my distance to the red marker and add them together. If the number of both distances equals 49 to 51 yards, then I have an accurate distance. If not, I determine which angle I made the error and check the distance again. This process can take a bit of time, but it is worth the extra effort.

There you have it. These three old-school processes are worth their weight in gold if you do not have an electronic measuring device. Using the above steps, I am confident I can be within 2 yards of any modern electronic measuring device.

On a side note, course knowledge significantly improves the accuracy of my measurements. The more I play the course, the better I understand its nuances. This knowledge is used to adjust my measured distance as required.

Being able to measure distance on the golf course is an important tool. Doing it old-school is a dying art; many amateurs are comfortable measuring to within 5 yards, but I feel the closer, the better. If you have never tried to measure distances old-school, I recommend you give it a try. You would be surprised how this process improves many aspects of your game. If you are curious about what I am talking about, try playing old-school and see what happens.

I am a grateful golfer. See you on the links!

4 thoughts on “Golfing Old-School: Measuring Distance

  1. Hi Jim,
    Looking at your poll, nearly fifty percent think they can get to within 4-6 yards of the pin. As the marker only gives you the yardage (that’s an old school term these days) to the center of the green, so unless you actually walk up to the green to see how far past or before center, or on a large green how far from left or right,which way does the green slope, it would fairly hard to get within that distance on a regular basis.On small greens it would be simpler to gauge.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Pete,

      I agree and you are now talking about the fun stuff ee used to consider when playing. It is not easy and many players likely over estimate their ability to factor in all the variables. Course knowledge is very important to zeroing in on a yardage. Great ro hear from you.

      Cheers Jim

      Liked by 1 person

  2. No, I play mostly by sight and feel alone. Of course I check markers on the course to help verify my guesses and I’ll look at the GPS if one is provided, but I haven’t found any real benefit knowing it’s 136 vs 138 to my game. I’ll just grab my 9 iron and the rest is all feel based on what I’m seeing and the shot I picture in my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kevin,

      I agree that for our game knowing the distance between 136 and 138 is not a big deal when attacking the green. However those two yards make a goong over jazards or missing the bunker. I like to know, it helps my game and course management. Tjanks for weighing in.

      Cheers Jim


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