What is an Elevated Green and How Do You Play It

The term “elevated green” refers not to a green that's perched at the crest of a steep hill, but one that is built to sit higher than the surrounding ground.

Golf course architects achieve this by creating a mound of earth and placing the green surface on top of it. You may hear such greens called “push-up” or “pedestal” greens as well.

Elevated greens are common on courses from all eras. Earlier designers like Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones utilized them often, as do modern architects including Jack Nicklaus. Playing to an elevated green is different than approaching a conventional green that lies level with the land around it. Think of it this way: When approaching an elevated green, you must elevate your shots.

Here are some tips to help you handle these tricky targets:

  • Flight your approach shots high: When hitting to an elevated green from more than 100 yards out, the surrounding slope makes it tough to run the ball onto the “dance floor.” Approach shots landing short of or on the bank will often stop there, sometimes rolling back down to the flat fairway or rough. What's more, the green's elevation effectively lowers the trajectory of approaches; even if you carry the ball onto the surface, it may bounce over. Therefore, your shots must not only land on the green, they need to come down on a steep trajectory. Hitting the ball higher is a simple process: Just move the ball an inch or so forward (toward the target) in your stance. This adds loft to the clubface and height to your shots.

Watch this video for help getting your irons up: Drills to Hit the Golf Ball High

  • The best miss is often short: If you miss an elevated green to the left or right, the ball will often carom off the bank into a hazard, trees or rough. Long is usually wrong, too. Greens tend to slope from back to front, so a chip from behind the green may be frighteningly fast. A ball which lands on the slope fronting the green typically stops quickly and leaves an uphill recovery shot that's easier to execute.
  • Be careful with club selection: While most pedestal greens are elevated less than 5 feet above the fairway, that's just enough to make a difference in the club you choose. As a general rule, a yard of rise adds a yard to the distance of your shot. So, if you've got a 150-yard approach to a green that's elevated 1 yard, play it as 151 total. That hardly seems worth noting, but it can make a difference when you're between clubs. Remember, you want to hit the ball higher, so taking the shorter club (an 8-iron instead of 7) and swinging hard will produce a higher shot. If you're not confident you can reach with the shorter club, take the longer one, grip down a touch and make a full swing.
  • Learn two shots for recovery: When you miss an elevated green, you'll face a couple of options for the up-and-down attempt: a high shot that clears the bank and lands softly on the green, or a low one that runs up the slope and toward the flag. If your ball lies on the upslope, the lofted pitch is usually your best bet because the ball will naturally jump high off the clubface. When playing from a flat spot at the base of the bank, a bump-and-run shot with a less lofted club is easier to pull off.

What is an Elevated Green and How Do You Play It?

What is an Elevated Green and How Do You Play It?

If all golf courses were perfectly flat, the game would be rather boring. Sure, it would be easier, but it would be pretty boring to play. You would never have to adjust your distances based on whether you were playing up or down hill, and your ball wouldn't roll far from where it landed. Nearly every golf course you will find has some amount of slope from the first hole to the last, and that is a good thing. Sloped golf courses provided added challenge and variety, which is what makes golf such a great game in the first place.

In this article, we are going to talk specifically about one type of elevation change you find on golf courses – elevated greens. Simply put, an elevated green is a putting surface which is set above the level of the rest of the hole. If you have any experience at all in this game, you have certainly come across at least a few elevated greens in the past. In fact, depending on the types of courses you play, it is possible that you will see several elevated greens within a single round. Knowing how to handle elevated greens is a skill which can pay off for you in a big way on the course, as holes with elevated greens tend to be some of the most difficult you will face.

One of the problems many amateur golfers face is the fact that they spend most of their time and effort on trying to improve their swings rather than their course management skills. You do need a quality swing to play well, but you also need to understand how to make good decisions on the way around the course. This is particularly true when facing elevated greens. If you think strategically on holes with elevated greens, you can avoid placing your ball in bad spots more often than not. Good course management won't necessarily save your bad shots, but it will help you get the most out of the good ones.

Even after you read through this article, you are going to need to use your own best judgement on the fly when playing any hole with an elevated green. We will provide you with an outline of how to play these kinds of holes, but there is no perfect blueprint for every possible situation. Use your own critical thinking skills, along with your experience on the course, to pick out the right plan for any given shot. Over time, you should find that you get better and better at planning successful shots into elevated greens. By adding this ability to your repertoire, you will be one step closer to becoming a well-rounded golfer.

All of the content 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.

The Challenges of an Elevated Green

The Challenges of an Elevated Green

At first, playing a shot into an elevated green might not seem like that big of a challenge. After all, a standard golf shot is going to fly high up into the air anyway, so what's the big deal about having the green perched five or ten feet above the level of the fairway? Well, it isn't always going to be a big deal, but there are some challenges to watch for along the way. As long as you are aware of the potential trouble that comes with an elevated green, you should be able to get through these kinds of holes without much trouble at all.

The following list includes some of the common challenges that you will face when playing a hole with an elevated green.

  • Getting the distance right. This is the challenge that you think of first when playing to a green which is positioned higher than your ball. Your shot is not going to travel as far as it would over flat ground, meaning you need to make some adjustment to your club selection and shot type before making a swing. If the green is only slightly elevated, you might be able to use the same club as usual, or you may just need one extra. When the green is significantly higher than the fairway, however, you will have to pick two or even three extra clubs to reach the target successfully. Accurately controlling your distance is going to be your main task when facing an elevated target.
  • Seeing the target. Since the green is above the level of the fairway, you won't be able to see the putting surface as you get ready to hit your shot. This can make it a little difficult to plan your shot properly. To get past this problem, use the information which is available to you on the course. For instance, most courses have some sort of system in place to tell you whether the hole is located in the front, center, or back of the green. Also, if you use a GPS system when playing, you might be able to see a drawing of the green complex on your GPS screen. Pull together all available sources of information to plan your shot appropriately.
  • Going over the green. Usually, it is the threat of leaving the ball short of the putting surface which is in the back of your mind as you play an approach shot to an elevated green. However, that might not actually be your biggest problem. If you hit the ball too far, you could be faced with the task of chipping back down the green to the hole. Since most elevated greens are also sloped from back to front, hitting the ball too far on your approach shot can put you in a tricky spot. Depending on the design of the hole, you may be better off leaving your shot short rather than going too far – unless there is a severe drop off at the front of the green. Check the lay of the land before hitting your shot and plan your club selection appropriately.
  • Getting the ball to stop. Playing a shot to an elevated green is basically going to flatten out your effective trajectory. All other things being equal, a shot hit to an elevated green is going to need longer to stop than a shot played to a green which is level with the fairway. Your ball will hit the ground while travelling on a flatter path, meaning the first bounce will be bigger and your spin will not have as much effect. This might not be much of a problem when playing a soft golf course, but it can be a major issue if the greens are firm. You need to be aware of this adjustment before planning your shot so you can pick your landing spot and club properly.

As you can see, there is plenty to be concerned with when facing an elevated green. While you don't want to be 'scared' of these kinds of shots, you do need to give them the respect they deserve. Only when you thoroughly plan out your approach shot into an elevated green can you expect to achieve positive results. Don't just walk up to the ball and swing away – good golf requires a bit more thinking than that. Take all of the various factors into consideration, visualize the shot, and only swing the club when you know exactly what you are trying to do with the ball.

Selecting a Strategy

Selecting a Strategy

When you do come upon an elevated green, you might have trouble deciding how to proceed at first. There are plenty of options available to you, and knowing which one to go with is not going to be a simple task. You need to be fully convinced that you have selected the right option, but how do you know which option to give your full vote of confidence? The following tips should help you pick a plan that you can believe in.

  • When in doubt, play it safe. If you feel like you are facing a particularly difficult shot, the best thing you can do is aim for the middle of the green. Playing for the center of the putting surface is going to give you some margin for error, which is always a good thing. Even though you might not hit it close for an easy birdie putt when using this strategy, you will be maximizing your chances of at least hitting the green. It takes patience to use this approach on a difficult hole, but that patience will be rewarded in the long run. You need to make sure to avoid a 'big number' when playing a tough uphill hole, so use the center of the green for a safe target.
  • Ball flight depending on hole location. If you happen to have the ability to curve the ball either direction on command, now would be a good time to put that skill to use. Specifically, you are going to play either a fade or a draw depending on the location of the hole. If the hole is cut near the front of the green, use a fade to stop the shot quicker. Or, if the hole is in the back, hit a draw and use a bigger bounce to move the ball as close to the cup as possible. This is a great 'trick' for controlling your distance on uphill approach shots, as it doesn't require you to fly the ball all the way to the back of the green in order to set up a birdie putt.
  • Take hazards into consideration. Are there any hazards involved in the design of the hole you are playing? Water hazards, deep sand traps, and out of bounds markers are all elements which you should be paying attention to carefully. One of the best things you can do for your scorecard is to keep it free of penalties, so never take any unnecessary chances around hazards. You don't always have to hit great shots to wind up with a nice score for the day. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is simply to stay out of trouble.
  • Watch the wind. Just as is the case with any other shot you hit during the day, you need to check the wind before playing to an elevated green. Since the putting surface will likely be exposed to the wind (since it is elevated), you should give the wind a little more consideration than you do on flat shots. Specifically, you need to make sure you have enough club to reach the target when playing into the breeze. You don't want to force this kind of shot, so give yourself plenty of club and make an easy swing to knock the ball up onto the putting surface.

You can't have a one-size-fits-all strategy in place for every time you face an uphill approach shot. No two elevated greens are exactly alike, which is why you have to adapt your strategy on the fly in order to match the demands of the hole. Sometimes, a conservative method is going to be best. On other occasions, it will be better to be aggressive in the hopes of setting up a birdie. By customizing your plan on each individual hole you play, your odds of finding success will be maximized.

Thinking Ahead

Thinking Ahead

If you have ever played billiards, you already understand the concept of thinking a couple shots ahead. When shooting pool, it really isn't the current shot that you need to be worried about – it is the next one. You have to keep positioning the cue ball in a good spot to play the subsequent shots if you are going to run the table out. This concept applies to golf as well. Rather than only thinking about the shot you are playing at the moment, think ahead to how this shot is going to affect the rest of the shots needed to finish the hole.

As far as a hole with an elevated green is concerned, this means you need to think about the approach shot when standing on the tee. If you are going to give yourself the best chance to succeed, you need to put your tee shot in the right place. You certainly don't want to make the hole any harder by getting out of position after just one swing. In reality, you should be thinking about tee shot positioning on every hole you play, but this point is particularly important when you know an uphill approach is waiting for you on the next swing.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to push the ball as far up the fairway as possible in this situation. Doing so will leave you with a shorter approach shot, making it easier to hold the green, despite its elevated position. Of course, hitting the ball way up the fairway means taking your driver from the bag. You won't always be able to swing away at your driver, depending on the design of the hole, but start with this idea in mind and go down to shorter clubs from there if necessary.

There is one specific situation where you will want to think about clubbing down on the tee. On many holes with elevated greens, the ground begins to slope up toward the putting surface well back in the fairway. This can occur as far back as 50, 100, or even 150 yards from the green. While there is nothing wrong with leaving your ball on a slight upslope, leaving yourself on an extremely steep part of the fairway is going to make for a tough approach. If you can find a flatter patch of fairway by laying back, that is exactly what you should do. The lie of your ball is always an important piece of the equation, so look for flat spots in the fairway and give yourself the best chance to strike a clean approach into the elevated green.

It should go without saying, but you also want to place an emphasis on finding the fairway when you plan your tee shot. Hitting into an elevated green from the rough is a difficult task, as the decreased spin rate means you will struggle to stop the ball in time to hold the putting surface. Do what you can to place the ball in the short grass with your tee shot to avoid an awkward spot for the approach.

You should always be thinking ahead in golf. Not about the score you are going to shoot, or what you are going to order for dinner after the round, but rather about the remaining shots on the hole in front of you. By planning a path from tee to green which will make the hole as easy as possible, you can increase your odds of finishing the hole at par or better. Good golf still requires the execution of quality swings, but smart decision making can swing the percentages in your favor.

Other Challenging Design Elements

Other Challenging Design Elements

Elevated greens can be difficult to navigate, but they are far from the only challenge which will be placed in front of you by a course designer. A good designer will have a long list of 'tricks' up his or her sleeve, all meant to add interest to the course and to test the skills of the player. The list below includes some of the popular design features you are likely to see on your local golf courses.

  • False fronts. This is actually a design feature which is commonly used along with an elevated green. A 'false front' is a section of putting surface which won't actually hold the ball. So, for example, the first five yards of the front of the green may be sloped too severely to have the ball come to rest – it will simply roll off the front instead. This is a challenge because as the golfer, you will see the front of the green and think that you can place your ball there safely. That would be a mistake, however, as the ball would be turned away and you would wind up hitting a chip shot for your next stroke. To successfully navigate a false front, you have to mentally eliminate the front of the green from your planning, instead aiming further onto the putting surface to find flatter ground.
  • Misleading bunkers. When you see a bunker in front of the green, you naturally expect that bunker to be right up next to the putting surface. That is, of course, the most common arrangement. However, there is no rule stating that bunkers need to be pushed up against the edge of the green. To add complexity to the design, some designers will move bunkers away from the green and back farther into the fairway. This is a challenge to the player because it is misleading as you hit your approach. You may think you only need to get the ball over the bunker in order to hit the green, but that is not the case. The key to dealing with this design element is to trust your yardages, ignoring the visual trick in front of you. Determine an accurate distance to the target and make your swing based on that number alone.
  • Tiered greens. It is usually good news to hit the green with your approach shot, but that is not always the case when playing a hole with a tiered green. If there are two or more tiers built into the same green, you need to focus on getting your ball on the right level if at all possible. It will be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to two putt when you find the wrong tier with your approach. Getting the ball in the right spot comes down to knowing your yardages and then making a clean strike. If necessary, it may be better to play the ball off to the side of the green in order to get on the right level, rather than having to putt up or down a tier.

The fact that each golf course has its own unique design is one of the great things about this game. If you ever get bored with your home course, you can simply make a tee time somewhere else to mix things up. Of course, this feature of the game also makes golf quite challenging, as you are always having to adapt on the fly. Whether you are facing an elevated green or any other design feature, think carefully about your options before making a swing. Good luck!