How Far Is It To That Trap?

In his recent column in Golf Digest, David Owen discusses driving with GPS as a guide. He ends by admitting that he no longer pays much attention to signs and roads as he drives, so his knowledge of how to get from here to there is shrinking. I don’t use a GPS while I drive, but I have noticed my ability to judge yardage on a golf course has shrunk with the advent of GPS and laser rangefinders.

When I started playing golf I was delighted if a course had ornamental trees planted 150 yards out from the green as yardage guides. Without the trees, my yardage guesses were totally unaided. Remarkably, I got pretty good at it after awhile, although my judgements were “That looks like an 8 iron,” not “That looks like about 145.” I still catch myself doing that off the course these days when I try to judge distances. I figure my landmark is a six iron or so away, and translate that to yards.

I still remember my delight the first time I played a course with markers for 100, 150, and 200 yards out. When I started playing courses with yardage on sprinkler heads I thought I was in heaven. And my first course with GPS in carts? Woooh, baby!!

These days I play with a laser rangefinder, a Bushnell Tour V2. I use it religiously, even though I typically know the yardage on familiar courses. I’ve become the default par 3 distance information source in our group since the Chipping Lizard’s rangefinder died from heat exposure. We’ll pull up to a tee and Cowboy Gene updates the wolf bookkeeping, Cowboy Roy launches into a story, and the Lizard impatiently hovers his hands over his bag, waiting for my call. Gallon is usually still walking from the previous green, but he just hits it anyway, no information required.

The insane part of this is we’ve all played these holes hundreds of times. We can judge the distance without the rangefinder. After we get the information we pull the same club we would have without it. The wind, the temperature, and the natural inconsistencies in our swings far outweigh any gains the exact yardage would have given us. But we gotta have it.

One of these days I’m going to test myself and play without a rangefinder. I bet I’ll do just as well as I usually do, as long as I’m on a course with which I’m reasonably familiar. I can’t swear to exactly how far I hit each club, so I don’t think a few yards of uncertainty will make much difference.

But I’ll feel naked without that laser, I guarantee.

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2 Responses to How Far Is It To That Trap?

  1. Brian Kuehn says:

    Range finders and GPS leave me with a queasy feeling. Somehow, getting yardage reads from anywhere on the course seems wrong to me. Like you, I started golf when 150 yard markers were about all one could expect. Unless one played a course several times, distances and clubbing was a hit & miss proposition. Eventually, I got fairly good at judging distances and pacing off yardages.

    Now I have to stand around while the other three guys “shoot” various targets and compare GPS readings. Yes, I listen and glean valuable information. Still, it seems to me when Bubba hits it into the other fairway and I sitting at the 150 marker, part of his challenge should be to estimate his yardage to the front edge and hole location. With his laser, however, he gets a better reading than I have in the middle of the right fairway (sigh). Maybe Santa will bring me a Bushnell for Christmas and I will be able to stop whining.

    • I got my laser largely because the carts at my home course have GPS in them but I seldom was in one of those carts. Then they removed the yardage markers installed in the cart paths (apparently because the markers didn’t always agree with the GPS) and that sealed the deal.

      I still like to judge yardages without the aid of laser or GPS, just to check on the state of my yardage judging skills. I do pretty well except on a strange and wide open course where there are few cues to rely on.

      I’m very happy with my Bushnell. If you get a laser, try a few out and see which one locks on to targets the best for you. I narrowed it down to my Bushnell and a Leupold, tried them both out in the parking lot of my favorite Edwin Watts, and found that the Bushnell worked best for me. I have friends that prefer the Leupold.

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