The Yardage Book in Golf: What Is It and Do You Need One?

Stacy Lewis looks at her yardage book on the sixth green during the first round of the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I at Highland Meadows Golf Club on July 17, 2014
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

A "yardage book" is a pamphlet or booklet, typically pocket-sized, whose pages contain detailed illustrations of each hole on a golf course. The illustrations show overhead views of each hole and  denote yardages to and from hazards and landmarks on each hole.

Some yardage books are quite fancy, printed on high-stock, glossy paper with full-color illustrations. Other are more basic, with black-and-white line drawings.

The Purpose of a Yardage Book

All serve the same purpose: to help the golfer plan his way around the golf course.

The primary purpose of the yardage book is, no surprise, to provide the golfer with yardages. On Hole No. 1, the illustration might show a hole that doglegs slightly left, that has fairway bunkers at 180 and 240 yards off the tee, that has a small pond in the rough right of the fairway at 200 yards. It might show the golfer that the distance from a certain tree to the putting green is 140 yards, and so on. The shape of the hole, the hazards on the hole, and important landmarks are all noted, and the golfer is provided with distances.

Those distances are usually provided as yards from the teeing ground, and then yards to the green. For example, a yardage book illustration of the fifth hole might show the golfer the yards to each of three possible landing spots in the fairway; to trees that might come into play on the drive; to bunkers or other hazards that endanger wayward drives. These yardages help the golfer plan the best possible way to play the hole, and (hopefully) to avoid danger.

Do All Golf Courses Offer Yardage Books?

No. In fact, most golf courses don't. Yardage books are typically found at higher-end golf courses, where they may be available for a fee.

Recreational golfers are most likely to encounter yardage books at higher-end golf courses - resorts and higher-priced daily fee courses. Sometimes a yardage book is complimentary and included in the green fee; more often, yardage books are sold separately and the golfer has the option to buy or not buy.

Golf tournament organizers might provide yardage books free of charge, or for a fee; some tournament organizers may arrange to have simple yardage books printed if the tournament is played at a course that otherwise does not offer them.

But the fact is many, perhaps even most, recreational golfers will rarely, if ever, use a yardage book. More serious golfers and tournament golfers find them very valuable, however.

Examples of Usage

"My yardage book shows me that it's 135 yards from this clump of trees to the back portion of the green."

"What does the yardage book say is the distance to that bunker up there on the right?"

Are Yardage Books Becoming Obsolete?

That's a good question! The advent of GPS for golf courses has made yardage books something of a 20th-century item. In tournaments that do not allow the use of GPS rangefinders - such as on the PGA Tour - yardage books are still must-have items for golf pros and their caddies.

However, many upscale golf courses, and even some downscale courses, now provide video screens built into their golf carts that show on-screen what used to only be available through printed yardage books. And, of course, golf GPS units and golf GPS apps for smartphones provide the same information, often in a way that is easier to understand for many golfers than the traditional printed yardage book.