Playing golf at elevation is fun because golf balls go a lot longer (without any swing or equipment changes). But how much does elevation affect distance and ball flight?
This is a good question and one we’ll answer today. If you’ve ever traveled to places like Denver, Utah, Reno, or other high altitude locations you’ve seen firsthand how elevation impacts the ball. A normal golf club that goes 150 yards might now go 160 yards.
For drives, it seems like the ball stays in the air for eternity; it carries longer and you finally hit it the distance of your dreams. Altitude affects irons and wedges too.
But if you live at elevation then come down to sea level golf courses, that’s a humbling experience.
Elevation and Golf
Have you ever played a new golf course and thought, “Wow, the ball is going a long way today.” I hate to burst your bubble but unless you’ve been speed training, you don’t add 10+ yards overnight.
Instead, the culprit is likely elevation change. For the average golfer, thin air at higher altitude can have a significant effect on any given shot.
Let’s break down how high altitudes affect launch angle, spin rate, and more.
- Increased altitude at higher elevations directly relates to longer golf ball distance – due to thinner air.
- While playing golf courses at sea level limit distance because the air is thicker. Humidity can also hurt total distance.
- When playing new golf courses at elevation you need to use a simple formula to adjust your distance.
Keep reading to learn more about our environmental factors that can impact your game at different golf courses.
Golf Ball Distance at Altitude
So, why does the golf ball travel further at altitude than sea level?
We let the experts at Titleist answer, “The golf ball flies further in high altitudes mainly due to the change in air density, which decreases as elevation increases.
Thinner air exerts less drag force on the ball. The ball moves more easily through the air and doesn’t slow down as quickly as it flies, resulting in greater distance.”
Thinner air means more distance as the ball flies further for the average golfer. While thicker air kills distance for all golfers (more on that in the next section).
Titleist also mentioned the best way to calculate the distance is by multiplying the elevation in feet by .00116.
For example, let’s say you normally live in San Diego (sea level) and take a trip to play golf in Denver (about 5,280 feet). If you hit the golf ball 250 yards off the tee at home, you’ll hit it about 265 yards in Denver.
Here’s the calculation: 5,280 feet (Denver’s elevation) x .00116 = 6.12%. Take your average drive of 250 yards x 6.12% which equals 15 – for an updated average driving distance of 265 yards.
This Golf.com article made the calculations easier by noting you get about 2.5 yards more per 1,000 feet of altitude. A change in ball flight even happens in football as NFL kickers can launch it longer at the Denver Broncos stadium.
The higher the altitude, the thinner the air, the longer the ball will travel in the air.
Golf Ball Spin and Trajectory at Altitude
Now that you know how to calculate the updated distance, what about spin? Which is another crucial factor for course management strategies.
According to the same Titleist article, “The golf ball does not spin any less at high elevation. However, because the air is less dense and imparts less force on the ball, the lift force is also lower. You’ll see a flatter trajectory on your longer shots, a more shallow angle of descent and greater roll.”
Additionally, since the air is thinner (and there is less force on the ball) it won’t hook or slice as much too. That’s right, playing golf at elevation can help you hit it longer and straighter – it’s like a cheat code to the game!
Other Environmental Factors
Aside from air density at elevation, there are other factors that can impact your distance control on the golf course.
Rain and Wind
Rain hurts your total distance with every club in the bag. Not to mention it reduces spin as there is moisture on the golf ball so you can’t get as much club on the ball.
Wind is another challenging aspect to the game, even for elite ball strikers.
Since holes change directions, you need to adapt and recognize how the wind changes throughout the round. This means hitting different shots – like knockdowns- and changing your alignment.
Want to learn more about playing golf in the wind? Click here to read our full guide now.
Humidity & Heat
Humidity is a challenging factor and has the opposite effect of playing golf at altitude.
In humid conditions the air is thicker which hurts distance and increases spin. While not as drastic of a change as altitude, it can still impact total distance with longer shots.
Finally, let’s not forget about playing in the heat too. If you’re playing in dry heat (minimal humidity) like Arizona, the ball tends to go further for a few reasons.
First, the air is thinner which makes it easy to travel further like it does at higher altitudes. Second, it’s easier to make a full turn with your body as your muscles are much more flexible than in cold conditions. This is why a lot of seniors choose to retire in warmer weather climates to retire – it’s easier on the body (and leads to more golf year round).
Here is a good example from the same Golf.com article mentioned above. “So, if your driver carries about 250 yards in 70-degree conditions, according to Rice’s research, the same shot will travel about 254 yards in 90-degree conditions, and 246 yards in 50-degree conditions.”
The golf ball flies further at higher altitude and higher temperature locations.
FAQs About Golf Ball Distance With Elevation
Do you have more questions about how elevation affects your golf shots? If so, keep reading through the most frequently asked questions and answers below.
How much does elevation change golf distance?
About 2.5 yards per 1,000 feet of altitude with a driver.
How do you calculate yardage with elevation in golf?
According to Titleist engineers the best way to calculate the yardage is multiplying the elevation by .00116. Or, simply add 2.5 yards for every 1,000 feet of elevation change (with your driver)… as altitude doesn’t impact shorter shots as much.
Is 5,000 feet high altitude? Is 9,000 feet high altitude?
The definition of high altitude varies and there isn’t a set definition. Locations between 5,000 to 8,000 are typically considered mid to high altitude. While anything north of 9,000 is considered high elevation.
How much yardage do you take off for a downhill golf shot?
It depends on the severity of the slope. Sometimes it might be a yard or two downhill and not make a big difference. Other times you might have a shot (like some par 3s) with a few hundred feet elevation change.
I always think these shots are harder than uphill shots as it’s more challenging to guess the distance. Not to mention it’s hard to swing with full effort when the target is downhill. If possible, use a rangefinder with slope and always find the best place to miss to avoid hazards.
Lastly, make sure you stick to your pre-shot routine to swing with confidence.
Do elevated greens play longer?
Yes, depending on the severity of the slope, an uphill green plays longer. It’s a good idea to buy a rangefinder with slope as they’ll better help you understand the total distance.
What is the highest golf course elevation in the world?
For years this title has gone to the Yak Golf Course in India which has an elevation of more than 13,000 feet. The golf course, which is located on an Indian Army base, is about 6,000 yards which is pretty short from the tips – especially at elevation.
But Golf Digest recently found Mustang Golf Course at an astonishing 15,239 feet. While technically considered a golf course, if you check out the pictures/videos you’ll see it’s more lush vegetation than a well-kept golf course.
Playing golf at elevation is a ton of fun and leads to some long drives, but takes some getting used too. It’s not always easy to trust your clubs going a club or two further than normal. Since the air is so thin, the ball travels longer than ever.
Changing from high elevation to lower elevation is much more challenging though. For example, if you live at elevation and have to travel to a course at sea level, golf will feel much more difficult. The golf ball won’t travel nearly as far which can lead to ending up short of the green and having a more difficult time to score well.
Final Thoughts on Altitude in Golf
Playing golf at altitude will impact your game overnight.
Since the air is thinner, the ball goes longer and also straighter… every golfer’s dream. Altitude impacts longer shots much more than shorter ones so make sure to plan accordingly with a solid tee box strategy.
For shorter shots and greenside shots, altitude won’t play as big of a factor. Since the ball isn’t in the air as long it won’t impact the flight… but it could have a lower trajectory.
Needless to say, there is a lot to think about when it comes to playing golf at different altitudes. Always check the elevation and update your distance chart to pick the right club for any shot. Plus, don’t forget to factor in wind, temperature, and other factors as well.