How To Adjust For Elevation

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Where Am I?

When you arrive at the ski slopes, there is always a sign that says the elevation. They don't have one of those signs at the golf course but it would be a big help to golfers. It is important to know what elevation you're playing at because altitude can play a huge role in how far or short your ball will travel. If you're playing golf in an unfamiliar location, look up the elevation before you play. Understanding where you are and how the altitude affects your ball will help you to shoot your lowest scores.

Sea Level

Golf Near The Ocean

If you are playing golf near the ocean you are obviously playing very close to sea level. That means no elevation. Nowhere on earth will the ball go shorter than it does at sea level. When playing near sea level the air is thick and creates more resistance for your ball to travel through.

  • The Ball Curves More - The thick air at sea level creates a lot of friction on your golf ball. Spin is magnified by this and curving the ball left or right is very easy. The smallest amount of sidespin will result in a fairly large curve of your golf ball.
  • The Ball Goes Shorter - remember to adjust your yardages on the range. If you normally hit your 9-iron between 130 and 140 yards, count on it going no more than 130 at sea level. It is very difficult to squeeze extra yardage out of your clubs at sea level. The air is heavy, the grass is usually moist and lush, and all of these things kill distance.
  • Club up - If you're in between clubs, always take the longer one and take a controlled swing rather than trying to muscle up. Taking extra club and swinging within yourself will help you get the ball to the hole and decrease unwanted spin.

Playing In The Mountains

Golf in the Mountains

To take it to the other extreme, if you are playing in Denver Colorado (altitude 5,183 feet) your ball will react very differently than it does at sea level. It will travel significantly farther, curve less, and trajectory control becomes a key factor to controlling your yardages. Adjusting properly will help you to shoot lower scores.

  • The Ball Goes Farther when you are playing at high altitudes. As a general rule, the ball goes 10 percent farther when playing at 5000 feet of elevation. The air is thinner and there is less friction and, therefore, less resistance. The easiest way to adjust for this is to simply subtract the first two numbers from the yardage you have to the green. For example, if you have 180 yards to the flag, play it as though you have 162 yards. Some people get confused and try to figure out how far each club goes at that particular altitude but that often leads to overswinging. If you tell yourself that you have 180 yards and you have a club that you know doesn't normally go that far, you're going to end up swinging harder subconsciously. Instead, tell yourself you have 162 and hit your club for that distance. You are much more likely to swing in rhythm and tempo.
  • No Curve The ball doesn't curve as much at high altitudes as it normally does. The air is thinner and there is less friction. In order to make a ball curve ten yards, it will have to feel like you curved it 20 yards. The obvious advantage of this is that it is considerably easier to keep the ball online at high altitudes.
  • Try a Softer Golf Ball - This can be the easiest way to battle altitude without having to change your swing. A softer golf ball will spin more than your normal one and make up for the decreased air resistance.

Trajectory

How high or low you hit the ball doesn't matter much when playing at sea level. When playing at elevation, however, trajectory is a massive factor in controlling your distance.

  • Higher = Farther - The great thing about playing at elevation is that you can add yardage simply by hitting the ball higher. If you are in between clubs and you want to hit the shorter one, you don't have to swing harder. You simply need to hit it higher. If you want the same club to go shorter, you simply have to hit it lower.
  • Keep Your Wedges Low - Avoid hitting full shots with your wedges if you can. Yardage control is essential for good wedge shots. Wedges are for control and if you hit your wedges high in high altitude environments you will give up a massive amount of yardage control. Keep your wedge shots as low as you can in order to stop them from going uncontrollably far. Using this strategy will result in wedge shots that go closer to your sea level yardages and you'll be able to predict their total distance much better.

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