June 02, 2010

How Yardage Books Changed the Game of Golf: USA Today covers the 50-year history of yardage books, the "postcard-sized drawings, notations and scribbles" that tell a golfer how a course plays. Carrying them was popularized by Jack Nicklaus when he left the amateur ranks in 1962, but another golfer wasn't terribly fond of them at the time. "If I had been a ruling body I would have made them illegal," said Arnold Palmer. "I didn't have much choice but to go along." He did, and Palmer's caddy George Lucas has become the foremost seller of pro yardage books, which recently began to be sold to the public.

posted by rcade to golf at 05:25 PM - 5 comments

Nice to see "gorgeous" George Lucas getting some due here. He did a lot of New England courses, whence I hail from, and I miss using his books when I still occasionally loop out there on the Canadian and Nationwide. He had some "very" interesting abbreviations...the world famous J.I.C.Y.F.U. ..and then J.I.C.Y.R.R.F.U., adding two "reallys' to the admonishon of "Just in case you F....ed Up". These were off the map notations of yardages from from area not usually in play, but needed in case you or the pro had to wedge out from a creek or tall grass, etc, leaving an awkward yardage that he couldn't include in his map. Once you get used to front edge of the green yardage, either as a caddy or player, you sense that the middle of the green sprinkler head markers are useless. Beaman, Nicklaus and George are to thank for that.

posted by Leominster at 06:28 PM on June 02

Interesting arcticle. Thanks, rcade.

I'd agree that no single thing has done more to reduce scores in the professional game in the last 50 years, but would add that I suspect no single thing has done more to slow down amateur golf over the same timespan. I'm forever getting stuck behind guys (and girls) who have never been, and will never be, capable of hitting a club the same distance twice, but they will disect their yardages like the difference between hitting it 195 and 196 could be vital (even when the furthest they've ever hit a ball is 155 anyway).

I still play a bit of competitive amateur stuff and am back to a level where I know pretty much how far I hit the ball (or how far I'm capable of hitting the ball) with each club. That said, I still employ Harvey Pennick's rule and if I get a strong sense of what club I should hit before I look at the book, I just hit that club (the logic being roughly that you'll end up in a better position by hitting the wrong club well than by hitting the right club badly).

That said, I love the books and have a big collection at home from all the courses I've played. Leafing through them years later can inspire some wonderful (and not so wonderful) memories that I'd thought were lost forever.

My favourite feature of the yardage books you can buy at most clubs these days is when they ask the pro to give them a quote for each hole. Almost without exception, the pro's tip is the most inane thing you will ever read.

"Don't hit it in the trees off this tee and try to get to the green with your second shot."

I'm always nagging the owner of the club where I play to take them out of our book and if he must have something in there, put in something a bit more tongue-in-cheek:

"See that pond on the right? You've got almost no chance of getting home in two from the bottom of it, so put your driver away and hit a 3-wood down into the wide part of the fairway, you numbskull."

posted by JJ at 10:20 AM on June 03

I'm a pretty hopeless golfer, and would meet JJ's criteria of never hitting the same club the same distance twice. However, a fast game is a good game, and I never use yardage books.

I had fun in Fiji a few years ago playing Denarau, where on each hole they have planted different trees and shrubs to show you how far to the green. The scorecard notes that on each side of the fairway there is a hibiscus at 100 metres, a frangipani at 150 metres and a royal palm at 200 metres. Playing with a couple of Americans who must have been from the northern states, I gave them a quick lesson in botanical identification before we teed off.

posted by owlhouse at 05:30 PM on June 03

When I used to play in Japan years ago, they had a similar system to what owlhouse describes above. The difference was that there were no notations in the scorecards, but the caddies would let you know.

posted by Howard_T at 06:55 PM on June 03

I played at Royal County Down last month and was let into a great secret by one of the caddies - all the sprinkerheads are 22 yards apart, so you only need to know one number on each hole for one of them and you can work out all the rest from there.

I was a fan of the "this bush marks 150 yards" system until I started getting stuck behind said bushes, then I reverted to being a fan of "this removable stick in the ground markes 150 yards".

Used a laser range finder last week for the first time. Made life a lot easier, even though my hand wasn't quite steady enough (too much whisky).

posted by JJ at 06:08 AM on June 04

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