Changing elevation is one of the biggest challenges you will face on the golf course. Sure, hazards like big ponds and deep bunkers are daunting, but something as simple as an approach shot played to a green well above the level of the fairway can be just as tough.
When you have to deal with elevation change, you will need to adjust your club selection to match with the ‘effective’ distance of the shot, and you will also need to think about your trajectory.
New golfers often get tripped up when dealing with uphill or downhill shots, but you will get better and better at this task with experience.
The Basic Process of Elevation Club Selection
Without wasting any time, let’s just dive right into the task of playing a shot uphill or downhill.
The steps below will give you an easy-to-follow process that you can use to prepare for these types of difficult shots.
Once through with this section, we will move on to some specific tips you can use to fine-tune your performance.
Step 1 – Get an Accurate Yardage
The very first thing you should do when coming up to a shot which will include elevation change is to get an accurate yardage. This initial yardage should not be adjusted for the slope at all, just find the yardage to your target.
Ideally, you will be able to get two numbers here – the yardage to the hole itself, and the number to the middle of the green (or the front, whatever you prefer).
Don’t get ahead of yourself by pulling a club out of the bag at this point. Simply find the yardage and then move on to the next step.
Step 2 – Assess the Green and Surrounding Area
The next thing you are going to do is take a look at the terrain surrounding the target.
Is the green sloped significantly in one direction?
Are there any major hazards to be concerned with around the green?
The observations you make at this time are going to be important because they will shape your club selection decision. For example, if there is a water hazard short of the green, you are going to want to error on the long side to stay out of the pond.
Whatever the case, the information you gather while observing the green is going to be essential to your success.
Step 3 – Judge the Elevation Change
This is the most difficult part of the process. At this time, you are going to have to make an educated guess as to how much uphill or downhill this shot is playing. Of course, you won’t be able to measure this change (rangefinders with slope adjustments are typically illegal in competition), so you will need to take a guess based on what you see.
Rather than trying to quantify the slope in terms of feet or yards, just measure it in clubs. Is it a one club slope, or two?
Rarely will you encounter a slope severe enough to change your selection by a full three clubs, so typically one and two are your only considerations.
Step 4 – Make a Confident Swing
One of the biggest mistakes made by amateur golfers in this situation is lacking confidence once they do swing the club.
With your decision made and the club in your hands, there is nothing to do but make the swing to the best of your ability. It does no good to doubt yourself, so let it fly and hope for the best.
There is always going to be an element of luck involved with a shot that involves a significant slope. By accepting that fact and doing your best to make smart choices, you can navigate this kind of situation without incurring any damage to your score.
Remember to Watch Your Playing Partners
You can learn a lot in golf simply by watching the other players in your group.
If you observe their shots as they fly toward the target, you will be able to gain a better understanding for how the elevation change is affecting the carry distance of the shot.
Want to make sure that you get to see at least one shot before you have to play? Do your best to outdrive someone else in your group. By being aggressive with your tee shot, you can gain the information edge by getting to watch those farther back in the fairway play first.
Use a Low Flight on Downhill Shots
It is tempting to hit your ball as high as possible when playing a downhill shot. Between the height of the ball flight on its own, and the downhill slope, this kind of shot can hang in the air for an extremely long time – and it looks cool to hit that kind of shot.
However, such a shot is rarely effective.
It is hard to control your distance when the ball is in the air for so long, meaning a lower flight is the better option. Use a punch-style shot whenever possible on downhill shots to make sure your ball doesn’t climb too high into the sky. You will find that controlling the distance of the ball and landing the shot on the green will become much easier with this strategy.
Play with Plenty of Margin
Taking an aggressive approach is not the right way of thinking when playing a shot significantly up or downhill. Rather, you should be playing it safe in these situations, aiming for the center of the green in hopes of a two putt par.
There will be plenty of other holes on the course where you can be more aggressive, so take a patient approach at this time and do your best to avoid a mistake.
One of the things that makes golf so interesting is the fact that it is not played over flat ground. Most courses have some degree of elevation change included in the design, and some have dramatic changes included between the first tee and the last green.
Learn how to get through the sloped holes in as few shots as possible and your game will be better prepared to deal with anything the course throws your way.