Do yardage books still have a place in golf?

With apps and in-cart GPS on the rise, what can a standalone course guide offer?
Yardage books can add to the experience of playing any golf course, from humble munis like Crestbrook Park (left) in Connecticut to private enclaves like Florida's Mountain Lake (right). They can also be valuable mementos of rounds overseas, like at Scotland's Lundin Golf Club (center).

Golfers tend to be collectors - some might call us hoarders - by nature. Hats, tees, pencils, scorecards, plastic divot tools...if a course puts its imprint on it, golfers are likely to bring it home.

I'm big on hats and scorecards, but my favorite common piece of golf course paraphernalia is the yardage book. My father traveled fairly extensively for work while I was a kid, and when his trips involved golf, he would bring back yardage books from the courses he had played. When I was finished asking him how he'd played certain holes, I pored over them in my room for hours. There's no question that my fascination with the shapes and layouts of golf holes stems from those formative study sessions, and prompted me to draw golf holes of my own on computer paper.

Today, two shoebox-sized plastic bins groan under the pressure of the alphabetized yardage books stuffed inside. Whenever I travel to courses, I make sure to pick up a yardage book in the pro shop before setting out.

That is, if that particular course still sells them. As rangefinders, hand-held GPS units and golf cart yardage screens have become more and more prevalent in the last several years, I have noticed several middle- and high-end courses have done away with yardage books altogether. A few times, a shopkeeper has almost laughed when I ask for what to him must seem an obsolete piece of old-time golf gear.

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States checks his yardage book on the eighth green during the third round of the 2019 TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club.

I will admit that I can see the point. Golfers shoot flags and other course landmarks with their laser rangefinders. Handheld GPS devices, from IZZO's sub-$150 yardage-only Swami Voice Club to full-color models from Garmin and SkyCaddie that top $350, continue to proliferate. Various apps can turn your smartphone into a library of 30,000 yardage books. Same goes for your smartwatch, by Apple or other companies. The analog yardage book has never had so much digital competition, and it's not getting any easier. If golf's governing bodies were to allow digital yardage books in elite professional tournaments, that could be all she wrote.

Companies that make golf course yardage books acknowledge that demand for their products has waned, so they have gotten creative. "We're looking to do 500 events this year," said Mike Howell, founder and president of Best Approach Publications, which has been making yardage books for a quarter-century for about 2,000 courses worldwide. Custom yardage books for specific events like charity outings and member-guests have been popular with scores of their clients. In addition to hole diagrams, these pieces include tournament information, tee times and other pages that tie the book to a specific occasion. While the coronavirus pandemic has put a hold on all sorts of golf events, this seems to be a way for yardage books to stay relevant once play resumes with fewer restrictions.

A selection of Best Approach's custom yardage books, taken at the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show.

Best Approach has adapted to provide plenty of digital solutions to its clients as well. Their CourseFlight product generates digital hole flyovers using the data and graphics that would they would have turned into yardage books anyway. Likewise, their hole graphics are easily ported into custom course yardage apps, which save clients on printing costs while still containing similar information as a physical yardage book provides.

Does this mean it's only a matter of time before paper yardage books fall by the wayside entirely? Former professional golfer Tom Eubank doesn't believe so. Eubank's company, Golf Sign and Design, makes yardage books for several hundred courses, in addition to products from tee markers to engineering-grade metal signs for golf holes and street names.

"They never should have been called yardage books. They should have been called marketing books," Eubank said. "Do you know how many people at resort courses will buy these after the round? It’s a souvenir to take home. The marketing department uses these more than the pro shop nowadays.”

Many higher-end public and resort courses used to give every golfer a yardage book with their green fee, providing an instant, physical memento with far more detail than a simple scorecard. Lately, when they've been available, I've paid more than $20 for yardage books at some courses. That's quite a premium to charge golfers for the right to reminisce over a round. But as detailed as some of the professional-style yardage books have become, this can be a worthwhile expenditure, especially since it can save you a couple key shots in that money match with your buddies.

Personally, I will always favor a yardage book over its digital counterparts because a golf course's wide open spaces exhort me to look at something other than a screen for a few hours. The opportunity to plot out the best way from tee to cup makes me feel more invested in the round, and the process of translating the data on a hole map into an actionable shot helps me focus on that shot. Best of all, a physical yardage book can't interrupt me by serving up the latest silly social meme while I'm trying to figure the right layup yardage from the trees.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
16 Comments
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I personally like yardage books not only to plan my strategy for the round but also during the round, I turn my cell off as soon as I get to the field of play, nothing worse than a barrage of notifications and alarms going off because they use electronics on the course.

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Take one to the driving range, especially early in the season. Loosen up with 10-15 warm up shots and then play the course - calculate where your first shot went and then play the next from that position wherever it is (chips and all) up to the green and go to the next hole. Should take about a large bucket - you'll be done before you realize you're on 18.

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I also collect them. I love the art and craft of professional books and also the beauty of the color resort books. So sorry to see them disappearing. It is an art form to create a great yardage book.

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The yardage books, especially the really good yardage books with a photo of hole on the left and the yardage shot on the right, are a fantastic way to remember how awesome the course was. Plus you may plot your strategy for revenge next time out. Nothing better, as far as golf satisfaction is concerned, than making a par on that tough par 4 after you tripled the first time out!!

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Have a few hundred books that I’ve collected and feeling sad that courses are no longer sticking them. Was in Orlando this March, and was very surprised that Celebration and Falcon’s Fire, two more-or-less high-end-courses, no longer had books.

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well written and well argued. However, couldn't disagree more. Yardage books are the scourge of the modern game, adding significant time to the Tours and spawning the ridiculous green books. Allow Distance Measuring Devices to speed up the game, as well as making it tech-cool. If not, ban everything and play as you see. Pro golf is 30/60 mins a round too long, DMD's would easily shave 15 mins of that

Commented on

Jim, while everyone is entitled to an opinion, you are forgetting one very important point. If given the opportunity, a true professional golfer will never use hand held devices. They simply are not accurate enough for their level of play. A "Tour Yardage Book" is only done by a few guys who use equipment that costs thousands of dollars not $150 point and shoots. I do agree that the rounds are too long but the better solution is for the Tour Officials to be as tough on the name players as they are on the rookie's. For your average player of which most of us are..... the hand helds are more than sufficient. Hit em straight.

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Tim’s dad here. One thing he could have mentioned: His second grade teacher used to catch him sketching out holes in his lap under his desk. Thankfully, for him and us, she was more amused than perturbed.

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Yardage books show more than just yardage, they show the layout of the hole when many scorecards do not or the depictions are so small you don't see little creeks crossing fairways, etc. I don't use electronic devises and find using sprinkler head markings or 200, 150 and 100 yard markers works just fine. If it's 155 or 150, it doesn't affect my 14 handicap game. I do think green reading books are taking part of the game of reading a golf course away however. Won't get into pace of play on use of extra devices, etc. but it isn't necessarily positive overall.

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Have about 200 yardage books I would be glad to donate to your collection if of interest. Just email me.

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I agree about green reading books...nothing worse than watching the pros pour over these diagrams before attempting to hole a 6 foot putt...boring

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Agree 100%

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Do yardage books still have a place in golf?