Lake Tahoe golf: Know the 10 percent rule when swinging at elevation |

Lake Tahoe golf: Know the 10 percent rule when swinging at elevation

Michael McCloskey winds up to swing at the par-72 Championship Course in Incline Village.
Courtesy Incline Village Golf Courses |

Tips for Tahoe golf

A high ball flight in thin air makes controlling your distances difficult. In order to control your trajectory, keep these elements in mind with each shot.

Ball position: The wedges and short irons should be played with a ball position in the center portion of your stance. The mid-irons should be played with the ball slightly forward of center (about 1-2 ball widths). Long irons and fairway woods should be played with the ball about 2-3 ball widths forward of center.

Attack angle: The club must return to the ball with a descending strike, creating minimal spin and penetrating flight.

Centerness of contact: Finding the center of the club each times will create consistency.

Arm speed: From the top of the swing, the arms needs to be in rhythm with the rotation of the golf swing to the finish. The player who can control the flight of each shot has the same arm speed with a wedge and a driver.

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — The 10 percent rule. For some golfers, this rule is wired into their psyche as they line up their shots — off the tee, from the fairway, or in the bunker — on high-altitude courses. Courses like the rolling green links tucked into the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges encompassing Lake Tahoe.

For others, especially those who’ve honed their skills at sea level and are taking their first swings at Tahoe, this rule may be a foreign concept.

But once that small white sphere coming off the end of your club cuts through the crisp mountain air farther than anticipated — perhaps plunging into a water hazard — you’ll know all too well the meaning of the 10 percent rule.

Simply put, “On average, most players realize about a 10 percent gain in yardage up here because of the thin air,” said Tony Nadeau, PGA professional at Martis Camp, an award-winning Tom Fazio golf course nestled between Truckee and Lake Tahoe.

This bump in yardage is due to the dimples of a golf ball having little moisture to catch and react to in high altitudes.

Meaning, “a golf ball doesn’t spin as much in mountain air,” said Travis Alley, director of golf at Old Greenwood and The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing in Truckee. “What we always tell a golfer coming from sea level to the mountains to play is, ‘10 percent difference is a really good starting point.’”


Keyword: starting point.

After all, the gain a golfer sees in his or her yardage, Nadeau said, also depends on a player’s “ball flight” — in other words, whether they’re prone to hit the ball at a low or high trajectory.

“Guys who hit it really high might get 12 to 15 percent (gain),” said Nadeau, offering examples. “With a sand wedge, you might go from your average of 100 yards to 110-115. Driver, you could go from 250 yards to 275 or even 300.

“That makes a big difference as they play these mountain golf courses that also have changes in elevation in them.”

Indeed, the mountainous golf courses at Tahoe-Truckee not only treat golfers to crisp thin air, but also myriad challenging uphill and downhill shots.

This factor makes club selection all the more important, said Jarrett Bower, PGA professional at Coyote Moon Golf Course in Truckee.

“Most people are familiar with playing down in flatlands,” Bower said. “Playing our courses, there are a lot of elevated tees and elevated greens.

“It all ties into club selection. If people are standing on our signature Par-3 hole (No. 13), it’s downhill and drops off about 100 feet. They’re having to factor in what the drop-in is and what club they should use with the elevation we’re at here.”


Speaking of clubs, if you don’t want your handicap to elevate while playing on Tahoe terrain, you should get fitted for clubs, according to PGA pros at Tahoe.

With the use of launch monitors, such as Trackman or FlightScope, golfers can measure their ball launch, ball flight and club delivery in great detail, tailoring the club to their needs.

“It fits people into the proper shaft and the proper head,” said Chris Holmes, PGA professional at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline. “It’s what most people should be doing instead of buying something off the rack.”

For Brian Eilders — who does fittings for Titleist and is a PGA professional at Old Brockway Golf Course in Kings Beach — playing with unfitted clubs hinders a golfer from swinging his or her club with solace.

“It’d be like being in a car and not being able to adjust the car seat — that car’s going to be a pain to drive,” Eilders said. “There’s so many things that go into having the club the right length, the right weight, the right loft … having the club fit to you is very important.”

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