Did you know that your altitude or elevation can drastically affect the distance your ball can travel? Thicker, heavier air, like the air near sea-level is actually lighter, and will not produce as much friction against the ball during flight as dry air. There are some studies on the affects of altitude on distance, but few provide actual numbers in terms of added yardage… and that’s likely because there is so many factors involved in the equation.
When the PGA tour professionals make a stop to a high-altitude golf course location like Colorado (with many courses above 7,000 feet), there’s a common theme when looking at their driver lofts – they go up. The truth is the higher and longer the ball is in the air, the further it will fly in these altitudes… in other words, low-hitters who rely on a lot of roll are at a disadvantage. Players like Kenny Perry (who hits a very high-ball) can see an increase of up to 20% in distance when playing in these altitudes. Other players on the same course equate anywhere from 10-15% yardage increase in these altitudes. The rule of thumb that we’ve found says for every 5,000 feet in elevation, add 10% in distance.
Air temperature and humidity also have a large affect on air density, so depending on what time of day you play at, your ball distance will also change. Playing in the morning, when the air is thicker and more humid, will add some yards to your distance, but in the afternoon, when it heats up and dries, the air is actually thicker and will provide more resistance.
Keeping this 10-15% increase in mind, were going to use a professional who hits their 8-iron 155 yards, 5-iron 200 yards and their driver right around 300 yards at sea level for some comparisons. For this pro, we’d see an 8-iron go about 174 yards, 5-iron would go 225 and the driver 338 at around the 7000 foot elevation mark. Pretty cool!
The highest elevation golf course in the world is the La Paz Golf Club in Bolivia (pictured here) at a height of 10,800 feet… at these altitudes and with these measurements, the average player would see close to a 20% distance increase. This would add up to almost 60 yards extra on your drives, and even more so if you could hit the ball as high as Kenny Perry…
Something to remember the next time you’re playing in the mountains.
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Your are correct about elevation but wrong about humidity. Density of a gas is related to it’s molecular weight and water vapor (humidity) has a molecular weight of 18 versus dry air which is approx 30. Increasing humidity makes air lighter and less dense than dry air.
Thanks for the heads up Ruppert. We’ll make an edit.
Contrary to how it feels, air is not thicker when it is more humid. It is thicker when it is dryer.
So with all other conditions equal, a ball will fly further in humid air.
[quote name=Wayne Ruppert]Your are correct about elevation but wrong about humidity. Density of a gas is related to it’s molecular weight and water vapor (humidity) has a molecular weight of 18 versus dry air which is approx 30. Increasing humidity makes air lighter and less dense than dry air.[/quote]
Yeah. What you said, Wayne!
I like your article but I am curious to see where your percentages come from. Is this purely anecdotal or is there there an more scientific resource?
Hi Dale, this post was written a couple years back, and I realized it was not edited to reflect what some other commenters had pointed out (this has now been fixed). I added some references, but this was purely anecdotal and based off a 5,000 ft elevation change adding approximately 10% increase in yardage – as stated in other articles. Would be a very cool thing to test with a Iron Byron and a trackman though!