Longer & Straighter: High Country golf brings more than just great views
June 24, 2014
There is something special about playing golf in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. From sweeping views to the breath-taking drives, High Country golf is truly at a different altitude.
As anyone who has come from sea level or even the Front Range can attest, the ball flies farther up here. The reason for this is simple physics.
"The first thing is the pressure change," said John Bally, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Breckenridge resident. "The decrease of air pressure and density with increasing altitude implies less resistance experienced by a flying object. Thus, a ball launched with a given velocity will tend to travel farther at higher altitude than at a lower altitude."
So what does this mean for the average golfer? If you're coming from sea level, the air is approximately 30 percent less dense in Summit County, translating to an estimated 15-20 percent gain in distance of ball flight in the High Country, Bally said.
“The first thing is the pressure change,” said John Bally, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Breckenridge resident. “The decrease of air pressure and density with increasing altitude implies less resistance experienced by a flying object. Thus, a ball launched with a given velocity will tend to travel farther at higher altitude than at a lower altitude.”
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"It's as much as a two-club difference from sea level," said Mark Nickel, head golf professional at The Raven at Three Peaks in Silverthorne. "Now from Denver we can be over a club, just from that 4,000 feet (increase in elevation)."
Nickel added that extreme elevation changes found on many mountain courses also adds to the equation.
"Any drop in elevation, obviously you're going to gain some distance," Nickel said. "Our first hole is a good example, when you lay-up on the fairway, then you have a drop in shelf. That is when you first notice how much club advantage you gain.
From 150 yards many people will hit a pitching wedge that normally would hit an 8-iron from that distance because of the little drop in elevation on the hole itself and the elevation change on the mountain course."
The club pro said the biggest difference most golfer notice when playing at elevations is seen in the lower irons. He attributed this to the higher consistency most players have in their shorter clubs compared to long irons and woods.
"With a driver you may only see 20 yards difference. …" Nickel said. "The short irons, mid-irons is where you really see the difference."
So how do you figure which club to pull when looking to make that all-important approach shot?
"The standard rule of thumb for us is one-and-a-half clubs," Nickel added.
Another difference when playing at higher elevations is the effect wind plays on a shot. Because of the lower density of air, the higher one goes in elevation, the lower friction exerted on the ball, lessening the effect of a cross wind, Bally said.
"Winds will tend to have less effect on the ball's trajectory," Bally said. He added that the effect will be similar to the 15-20 percent effect lower air density has on the distance a ball flies.
Whether you are a scratch golfer or a 20 handicap, playing at higher elevations can pose a unique set of challenges as well as surprising benefits.