If you’ve ever even stepped on the golf course or just seen it on TV, you’re probably aware that each hole on the course is unique.
Holes differ one from another by how difficult they are to complete and, even more importantly, by how far they are from the tee.
The length of each hole and its precise measurement is very significant in golf, for several reasons.
Proper measurements are essential for setting the correct hole par, and therefore, setting the par for the entire course.
Par of the golf course further helps set the course rating and calculate accurate scores and handicaps for each golfer playing the course.
In addition, knowing the exact yardage of the hole they’re currently on helps players pick the right club for every shot.
Still, while most golfers are aware of the importance of precise yardage, many don’t know how are golf holes measured.
How Are Golf Holes Measured?
To ensure a precise yardage for each hole, USGA and other golf governing bodies, have a fairly strict set of rules on how the holes should be measured.
This set of rules determines the instruments to be used, who can perform measurements, whether airline or ground contours should be measured, the points where measurement starts and ends, and clears up any other potential dilemma on this matter.
Measuring Methods and Instruments
For a long time, the predominant method of measuring golf holes was using the line of sight and the tool most frequently used was steel tape.
However, in 2002, the USGA introduced a new Handicap Manual with a separate section detailing how the holes should be measured.
Section 12-2. of the Manual states that each hole has to be measured horizontally and using either EMDs (electronic measuring devices), GPS (global positioning system), or surveying instruments,
The course measurement can be performed by any trained individual.
Still, all measurements are subject to review from the local authorized golfing association in charge of assigning the USGA rating under the World Handicap System to the course.
The hole measurements should be as accurate as possible and rounded up to the nearest yard.
Additionally, the golf club’s scorecard should accurately reflect the results of the hole measurement.
Air Line or Ground Contours?
The key dilemma when measuring golf holes and the question that confuses most people is whether the yardage should be measured by following the air line (the shortest distance from one spot to another) or if it should follow the contours of the terrain.
The latter was the preferred method in the first half of the last century and it’s possible that this approach was more accurate, as it accounted for slops, uphill terrain, rough, and other natural obstacles.
However, today, the measurement should follow the ideal playing line.
This may include cutting some corners, so the official hole length may, in some cases, be longer, than the distance the ball covers if it actually follows the fairway.
Still, on shorter, par 3 holes, measuring by air line is more precise than following ground contours, as the area between the tee and the green has little impact on the typical play.
Measurement Start and End Points
Another major factor determining the length of a hole is where to start and where to end measuring the distance.
Section 12-2. of the USGA Handicap Manual includes a requirement for every course to set a permanent yardage marker on each teeing area on the golf course.
This marker, set at the center of the tee box, serves as a starting point for measuring hole yardage.
When it comes to the green, as the pin can be moved around, the hole can’t serve as the measurement ending point.
Instead, when measuring a hole from the tee box, the end point is at the center of the green.
Besides official hole yardages, which count from the middle of the tee area, golf courses also take measurements from the front and the back of the teeing ground.
This allows golfers to have different yardage options depending on ability and skill level.
How are Dogleg Holes Measured?
Measuring the length of a dogleg hole is another challenge when determining the course’s yardage.
Dogleg holes are the ones that bend in one direction, so the measuring process will be somewhat different.
According to the USGA Handicap Manual, the course officials should select the pivot point at the bend where the ball would ideally land to have the best chance of hitting the straight shot to the hole.
Then, they should measure the distance from the permanent yardage marker on the teeing ground and the selected pivot point and the distance between the pivot point and the center of the green.
The two yardage values are then should added together to get the official hole yardage.
In cases when the doghole pivot point can’t be easily determined, it should be set at approximately 250 yards (210 yards for women) from the set of tees where the majority of golfers play from.
How Can You Determine the Hole Length When Playing Golf?
Back in the day, golfers had no other way of determining how far the hole is other than relying on their own eyes.
Nowadays, besides official golf course yardage, golfers have several tools at their disposal to find out the distance of the hole and plan their shots accordingly.
Yardage Books and Markers
Yardage books help players by giving them specific reference points for each hole.
Golfers use these reference points to get a sense of how far the hole is and develop a strategy and pick the right club to help them get to the green.
If you watch the PGA Tour, you can often see caddies carrying them to help players.
However, using yardage books may be a bit much for casual players. So, the courses have introduced yardage markers.
They are colored objects (typically disks) placed at set distances on every hole and indicating how far the center of the green is.
Markers are usually set in the fairway and rough throughout the hole.
Commonly they are placed at a distance of 100 yards (red), 150 yards (white), 200 yards (blue), and 250 yards (yellow).
Rangefinders and GPS Devices
Besides yardage books and markers, some players use more modern equipment.
The instruments commonly used to determine the distance are laser rangefinders and GPS devices.
Rangefinders are the first of the modern tools to be introduced at golf courses.
They measure the distance by sending out a beam of light (laser) which hits and bounces off the target, which is used to determine that target’s distance.
Lately, the most popular distance-measuring tools are GPS devices.
They are rather affordable and handy as practically every smartphone and smartwatch has a GPS measuring system as a built-in feature.
The information on the yardage of each hole and the entire course is extremely useful for your golf game.
Additionally, learning how each hole is measured provides a better understanding of distances on the course and the layout of the hole you’re currently playing.
To provide level playing ground and equal conditions on every golf course, the process of measuring hole length is regulated and monitored by the golf governing organizations, such as USGA or R&A.
This way, no matter where you play, you can rest assured that the hole measurements are correct and that your scores will accurately reflect your performance on the course.