Playing Golf at Altitude

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Most amateur golfers play a large number of their rounds in the same general area of the world; near where they live. They get used to how far they hit different clubs and how the ball flies in that specific climate. On occasion though, they’ll go on vacation in a different part of the world and bring their golf clubs along with.

One of the fun things about golf is that there is always a new challenge to tackle. No two golf courses are the same, and that’s great. Typically, though, we only look at the design of the course when considering course differences. There’s another element that often plays a bigger role than hole distance, grass type, or sand; the altitude.

Playing golf at a higher or lower altitude than you’re used to can dramatically influence how you play the game. A lot of us probably don’t even know what altitude we live at, but that might be a good thing to discover.

The Effect of Altitude

Anyway, altitude will affect the distance your golf ball travels in the air. Thinner air at the higher altitudes will cause the ball to fly further and the heavier air near sea level will make your golf ball go shorter. All of this will determine what club you select for a given shot.

Now, you may think, I’ll just learn to adjust in the middle of my round. That’s definitely an option, but not a fun one. It takes a lot longer to accurately adjust mid-round than most amateur golfers think. I lived in a climate 6,000 feet higher than I was used to for 3 months in college, and it took a good 2 or 3 weeks to start shooting better scores.

Calculating Shot Distance

Simply knowing that your golf ball will fly farther in higher elevations and shorter in lower elevations is great, but more information is needed. It’s not always as simple as adding 1 more club on every shot when you go play in Florida. The change can be more nuanced depending on how high or low you go compared to your normal.

A great rule to follow is to add 2% of distance for every 1,000 feet of elevation. So, for example, I live at about 1,000 feet above sea level. When I travel to my favorite golf course in Colorado, which sits at about 7,000 feet above sea level, I need play for a 6% increase in distance on every shot hit. For my wedges and shorter irons, that plays out as 1 club difference. When it comes to my longer clubs though, it can be almost 2.

The reverse is true as well. When I travel to Florida, I’ll lose 2% of distance. So, with my wedges, the difference is almost inconsequential. My longer clubs don’t quite change by 1 club, but they do change enough to where I could miss a green by swinging incorrectly.

The important thing to remember about playing in elevation is that it’s not a universal number of clubs to change. Use this simple calculation of 2% for every 1,000 feet of elevation, keeping in mind that higher elevations make the ball travel further, and you’ll be more successful on your golf vacation.

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