Adjust Yardage, Trust Golf Swing to Deal With Elevation Changes

If you're accustomed to flat golf courses and find yourself on a hilly track, the new variabCluble can play tricks on the eyes. Uphill shots may appear much shorter than they play, while downhill shots create the opposite illusion.

The first thing to understand is how slopes affect club selection. As a general rule, one yard of elevation change (up or down) equals a yard of distance. For example, if you have a shot that measures 100 yards up a hill that rises 10 yards from ball level to hole, those 10 yards must be added to the total – so it's a 110-yard shot.

In other words, you must trust your yardage, not your eyes, when picking a club.

When playing uphill, the tendency is to try to lift the ball into the air. This causes the right shoulder to drop, producing fat shots. Focus on making your normal swing and letting the club's loft do the work of sending the ball up the slope.

Conversely, it's easy to come up and out of shots when hitting downhill. Concentrate on keeping the left shoulder down through impact to deliver solid contact.

Adjust Yardage and Trust Swing to Deal with Elevation Changes

Adjust Yardage and Trust Swing to Deal with Elevation Changes

Hitting accurate golf shots over flat ground is already a challenge. You have to strike the ball just right, pick the right club, predict your trajectory, and deal with the wind in order to get the ball anywhere near the target. Plenty of golfers struggle round after round with the task of navigating a relatively straightforward shot over flat ground. Golf has never been an easy game, and the challenge of even the most basic shots is a testament to the overall challenge of this sport.

Of course, the game gets even harder when elevation change is added in to the equation. If you are hitting uphill or downhill on an approach shot, you will have yet another variable to add to your pre-shot considerations. As you are figuring out the yardage and picking a club, you now need to consider how much up or down hill is involved in the shot, and then adjust your plan to account for that change. A shot that is travelling significantly downhill will require less club than a flat shot, while an uphill shot will naturally demand more club. It takes experience to learn how to properly navigate uphill and downhill shots, but there are a few tips and tricks that you can learn right up front which will help you deal with the challenge.

For most golfers, hitting a shot that involves elevation change boils down to simply guessing at which club to use. Without a plan in mind for dealing with this situations, most players will just grab the club that they feel like may be able to handle the shot, and then they swing away while hoping for the best. Obviously, you can do better than the 'hit and hope' method. Sure, there will always be an element of guessing when it comes to elevation change, but thinking through the situation logically and weighing all of your options will help narrow down your shot selection nicely. You are never going to be as accurate over elevation change as you will be on a flat shot, but your skill should improve with critical thinking and experience.

This skill is specifically important for players who regularly encounter courses with significant elevation changes. Courses that are in mountainous regions, for example, often include plenty of elevation change, meaning you may have to use this skill on just about every shot that you hit for the entire day. Golf courses which offer plenty of elevation change are frequently beautiful and they remain interesting round after round, but they do offer a serious challenge to the inexperienced player. Only when you have a clear plan for how you are going to deal with going up and down will you be able to score your best.

All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Doing Some Math

Doing Some Math

Normally, getting a yardage is one of the easier parts of the game. You can use a handheld laser rangefinder or GPS device, you can look for a sprinkler head with a yardage marked on it, or you can even look on the scorecard in the case of a par three. Good golf courses are well marked to help you know exactly how far you are from the green on any given shot. Unfortunately, when you start to deal with elevation change, you are going to have to adjust the yardage you find to accurately reflect the kind of shot you will need to hit.

For example, imagine that you have 150 yards to the middle of the green for your approach shot on a par four. If this shot is being played over flat ground with no wind, you will simply pull your 150-yard club (maybe a seven iron) and make a confident swing. However, if that shot is significantly downhill, it may only play like a 135-yard shot, meaning you could use an eight or nine iron. On the other hand, an uphill shot from 150 may play like 170, meaning you will need a six or even five iron to cover the distance. All of these shots are technically played from the same distance from the green, but they can require wildly different club selections depending on the topography of the course.

It is important to have a specific number in mind for a yardage prior to every swing you make, so you will need to 'translate' your yardage into an adjusted number that takes the elevation change into account. This is the part of the process that requires the most guessing, and you are only going to get better at this part of the game with experience. There really isn't a way to quantify how much you should adjust based on the drop or gain in elevation, as you aren't allowed to measure elevation during a round under the rules of golf. Therefore, you are going to have to train your eye to look at the shot in front of you and decide how much to add or subtract from the base yardage.

Try using the following steps when picking out a number that you will use as your adjusted yardage on an uphill or downhill approach shot.

  • To start, get the actual yardage to both the center of the green and to the hole location. Without accurate numbers to start with, you won't be able to get an accurate adjusted number, so take your time to get the first part of the equation exactly right.
  • Estimate how much uphill or downhill you will have to traverse to get to the green. Use points of reference around the course to help you gauge how much elevation change you might be dealing with on the shot. For example, a golf cart is around six feet tall, so you could use a cart that is up by the green as some kind of indication of how much height you are gaining or losing. Of course, you will not be able to get an exact number this way, but you should be able to get relatively close.
  • As a very general rule of thumb, you can add or subtract around 10 yards or distance for every 15 feet that you are going up or down. Remember, this is far from an exact science, so you should not expect that framework to dial up the yardage perfectly for you. However, if you need a starting point, work from the idea of 10 yards for every 15 feet of elevation and adjust as you gain experience.
  • Once you have decided how much up or down you are traveling, do the math to come up with an adjusted number and use that to dictate the shot that you hit. Even if you aren't 100% sure that you have picked the right number, you need to commit yourself to the shot and execute your swing to the best of your ability.

This process might seem time consuming at first, but you should be able to go through it relatively quickly after just a little bit of practice. Experience is your best friend when it comes to dealing with uphill and downhill shots, so try to play as many hilly golf courses as you can until you learn how to consistently adjust your yardages accurately.

Wind Issues

Wind Issues

As if the game wasn't already complicated enough, you may run into shots that require you to deal with both the wind and elevation change at the same time. When that is the case, you will have to adjust your yardage for the elevation change as you did above, but you will then have to adjust again to account for the wind. As you might expect, playing a shot in the wind while going uphill or downhill is one of the most difficult situations you can encounter on the course.

There are really four combinations of wind and elevation change that you will need to learn how to deal with if you are going to come up with the right distance for your shots time after time. You will have to handle into the wind shots both uphill and downhill, along with downwind shots that are going uphill and downhill. The effect on the ball and your trajectory will be different for each of these circumstances, so it is important that you have a clean plan for all four.

In addition to those four, you may run into shots that are played across the wind from time to time. However, playing across the wind on an uphill or downhill shot isn't dramatically different from playing the same kind of shot on flat ground. No matter how you choose to adjust for a cross wind on flat ground is the same way you should deal with it when playing uphill or downhill. The only minor adjustment to make is when playing a downhill shot, you may need to give the cross wind a little more credit since the ball will be in the air for a longer period of time.

To help you better handle the combination of elevation change and wind on approach shots, the four combinations of wind and elevation that you will need to negotiate are highlighted below.

  • Downhill and downwind. Most people think of hitting downwind as being easy because the breeze will help your ball get to the hole. While the wind does help you hit the ball farther, it can actually make it more difficult to dial up the distance just right. It is easy to have the wind carry your ball long over the green, especially when you are playing significantly downhill. To limit the effect of the wind in this case, consider hitting a lower ball flight than normal. By keeping the ball down, you can prevent the wind from taking your shot completely out of control, and hopefully you will be able to get the yardage just right as a result. You might be tempted to throw the ball way in the air and let the wind do the rest, but that is a highly unpredictable way to play the shot. Use a softer swing with the ball back in your stance to lower the trajectory and keep control over the shot.
  • Downhill and into the wind. This just might be one of the hardest shots in all of golf. Playing downhill but into the wind is a challenge that will test even the best players. When you are playing downhill, your ball is naturally going to spend a lot of time in the air as it has to fall all the way down to the level of the green. While it is in the air, however, it will be facing the wind which will want to knock it down short of the target. If you allow the ball to get up into the wind on a downhill shot, you could be stunned by how far short of the target you are when the ball finally lands. The only way to get around this problem is to keep your ball flight down effectively. Just as when playing downwind, you need to control your swing and limit the amount of backspin on the ball so that you can flatten out the overall flight. Getting the ball up into the air is just asking for trouble, so play the shot as low as possible while still giving yourself a chance to hold the ball on the green. There is nothing that will make this shot easy, but playing it low to the ground is going to be your best bet.
  • Uphill and downwind. This is another difficult shot. When playing an approach shot uphill, holding your ball on the green is the main challenge because you are going to be coming into the green on a rather flat trajectory. The ball will usually take a big bounce and have some roll after it lands on an uphill approach, so just keeping the ball on the putting surface can be difficult. When you add a helping wind to that equation, things get even trickier. To give yourself a chance at success, try playing to the front of the green instead of the middle, and play the shot as high in the air as possible. Basically, this situation is going to call for the opposite approach that you used for the scenarios above. A high ball flight is your friend in this case, and you want to land near the front of the green so that the ball has room to stop before going over the back.
  • Uphill and into the wind. Of all four, this might actually be the easiest shot in the group. Since you are going into the wind, the ball will want to stop faster on the green, which will help when dealing with an uphill shot. As long as you are able to carry the ball far enough to land on the green, it should put on the brakes pretty quickly after coming down. Get the club selection right and make a good swing to conquer this type of shot.

Now that you know how to handle each of those four scenarios, you should have a clear plan when you face them on the course. Keep these tips in mind and hopefully you can navigate your way around a windy and hilly golf course with success.

Trusting the Swing

Trusting the Swing

It is easy to let your mind run in a million different direction when you are trying to figure out how to deal with an uphill or downhill approach shot. After doing all of the math and looking at the various elements in play, you might forget all about how to make a quality swing. Don't let that happen. Before starting your backswing, make sure you have calmed down your mind and focused in on executing your technique properly. All of the adjustments in the world aren't going to make a bit of difference if you make a poor swing, so take a moment to get set and bring your mind back to the task of striking the ball solidly.

Remember, you are making the adjustments to your ball flight and club selection in your pre-shot planning and set-up – once over the ball, the only thing you need to do is swing. If you are playing a downhill shot, for example, you will be holding less club than you are used to using for the distance you are facing, but that doesn't mean that you need to swing harder. You should be making your usual swing, unless you have decided to alter your ball flight by hitting a lower shot, etc. It is important to think of this process in two stages – the first stage involves the planning and math, and the second stage is hitting the shot. While the first stage obviously impacts the second, you don't want to leave your mind behind in stage one while executing stage two. Get the planning out of the way, pick your shot, and then move on to making a great swing.

It will take some practice to learn how to trust your swing on uphill and downhill shots. If you are looking at a shot of 200 yards but you are only using a seven iron because it is significantly downhill, you will be tempted to swing as hard as possible. Your eyes are sending your brain a message that you need to hit the ball hard to cover that distance, so your body may oblige on a subconscious level. That is why it is so important to focus prior to hitting this type of shot. Tell yourself over and over again that you are only making a normal swing – all of the necessary adjustments have already been made.

Taking Notes

Taking Notes

Do you play the same course, or group of courses, on a regular basis? If you are like most golfers, the answer to that question is yes. With that in mind, consider taking notes on your uphill and downhill shots during each round that you play. While these notes might not be particularly useful right away, they could pay off in a big way down the line. It is important to learn from your mistakes, but it is tough to remember each shot that you hit as time goes by. With a notebook in your bag, those experiences will be recorded and you will have the chance to learn from them in subsequent rounds.

For instance, you could write in your notebook that you played an uphill approach shot on the fourth hole of a particular course, and your shot came up short. If you include the yardage (real, not adjusted) and the club you used, you will be well-prepared for your next round on that course. When you face the same approach, you will know which club came up short, and you can reach for one more in order to get all the way to the target. You might be amazed at how valuable this information can be, and it will only take a couple of moments to take these notes. Get into the habit of writing down shot information while you are going about a round on one of your favorite courses and your scores in future rounds should start to come down.

Playing uphill or downhill for an approach shot into the green is always going to be a challenge, but you can get better and better and dealing with this situation by using the information above. Think your way through each shot before you hit it, and always get an accurate raw yardage that you can then adjust for the slope of the course. Elevation changes are one of the things that make golf interesting, and they don't have to ruin your score if you have a plan for how to deal with them properly.