Suited to a Tee?

Tee-it forwardsThe principle behind TEE IT FORWARD – that playing the tees more suited to you abilities will make the game more enjoyable – seems reasonable on the surface but are the assumptions behind it valid? The TEE IT FORWARD program is the brainchild of Barney Adams, the founder of Adams Golf and supported by the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association. They argue that by playing from forward tees, amateur golfers will experience the same relative golf challenge as the pros do playing 7500+-yard monsters. The emphasis here is on playing faster and having more fun, with the hope that people will want to play more,” said USGA President Jim Hyler.

Now wait a second, is the agenda “fun” or is it faster rounds leading to more rounds per day and more money for the course? According to the PGA: “With many more golfers hitting approach shots with 6- and 7-irons instead of hybrids and long irons, their chances for enjoyment increase.” I am sure PGA editors agonized over that wording – How can we imply that golfers will score lower without actually saying it because we know that it really is not true. So they came up with “enjoyment.”

Is there a problem?

My beef is not about wording though, it is the implicit blaming of male golfers who overestimate their abilities, play the wrong tees, slow play and detract from everyone’s “enjoyment.” But are golfers really the bad guys? Might they be the architects who design courses that we can’t play well in the first place and course officials or maintenance crews who position tees in the wrong places? The tips/golds/ blacks etc. are wherever they are placed for the day. No need to have us move up to the “high handicap” tees – just move our tees to a different box. That way the 7200 – yard course could play 6700 yards from the “tips” most days of the year making it more manageable for us mortals.

What about the results of TEEING IT FORWARD on your golfing enjoyment? A USGA survey seemed to indicate that golfers like the concept but the stats are pretty loose so my golf buddies conducted our own highly scientific analysis….

The Real Data

First, did we score better?

Some days yes and some days no – conclusion: shorter holes don’t make us better putters.

Second, are our drives better positioned off the tee?

A good drive is a good drive from any tee, bad drives from forward tees are often deeper in the rough/bush/water – conclusion: when we mess up off the tee we don’t do it straight, we do it way right or left and forward tees don’t help that. We did agree that we were less likely to overswing from the forward tees and ironically some of our longest drives were the product of smooth, relaxed swings from there, not the bombs we felt we needed to hit from the tips.

Third, do you get rewarded when you hit a big drive from a forward tee?

Sure, sometimes, but on other occasions, you drive it through the fairway into the rough especially on dog legs – that wouldn’t have happened from further back.

Fourth, what about par 5s?

From the forward tees your ego starts thinking you can get on in two. Guess what behavior that leads to on the tee? Not what the TEE IT FORWARD folks had in mind – conclusion, some par 5s should be reachable from any tees, others should be classic three-shot holes.

Fifth, as for par 3’s, more of them should be shorter anyway to give a variety of one-shot challenges. More than one 200+ yard par 3 on a course is just dumb – conclusion, we like a mixture of short and long par 3’s so position the tee boxes accordingly.

It’s a game!

Our overall conclusion is that we are not going to always play forward tees because the USGA wants us to. Pace of play problems will still exist but course marshalls/players’ assistants are out there to address these (whether they are doing a good job is another story). Beginners will always struggle on a big course unless they have spent lots of prep time at the range and on executive-length courses. It is fun to play familiar holes from different distances. It is also fun to groove your swing and test yourself from the tips. The game is intrinsically fun, especially if golfers and golfing organizations would lighten up a bit about scoring, handicaps, course ratings and yes, rules – but those are topics for other posts.

Update: If you caught the October issue of Golf Digest, USGA Executive Director David Fay echos my opinions in this post.

What is your experience with PLAYING IT FORWARD? We would love to hear your thoughts.


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  1. I much prefer a course that gives me a variety of shot types over one where it is driver-(9i-GW) all day. I played a great course this past weekend where I used nearly every club in my bag and while it wasn’t terribly long (only 6400) there was plenty of hole variety. Some you could get aggressive and hit driver to get a wedge in, sometimes the risk wasn’t worth it and it was better to aim for the 150 marker with an iron/3W off the tee.

    How many people do you know are willing to pull out 3W or 5i on a short par 4 so they have an easier shot in vs trying to hit driver near the green?

  2. As a budding golfer playing from the front tee dosn’t much bother me. What would bother me more is the fact if forced to play from the front tee if im in a party of experianced players who who suit playing from longer tee’s and the attitue from them when im there, would they resent me for playing from the front tee?

    Probably not as they are friends afterall but having that there in the back of my mind might be more harmful than playing from the front tee would be to my ego.

  3. Good comments, thanks guys. Scott, I admire golfers who seem to bury their ego, play within their abilities and consequently score better. The choice on those short par 4’s gets clearer as you get older but it does come down to percentages and confidence off the tee. The odds favor a lay-up off the tee but it is demoralizing to mess up a lay-up when you could have done it with more style using a driver! On days when you are driving well go for it – if there is any doubt in your mind though, play the percentages.
    Martin, you are right, who you play with is usually more important than how or what you are playing. Every golfer has gone through the learning process which was at times painful. Keep a positive attitude about learning the game and no one should object to playing with you. Similarly don’t be intimidated by good players, learn what you can from them and remember, they put in a lot hours of practice to get there.

  4. Love the idea. I like to say I’m a loose 13-15 handicap. As long as I play from 6400-6600 yards on my home course I can score anywhere from 80-86 consistently. Do I enjoy being a 8-PW in on 6000 yard muni. Hell yeah, who doesn’t. I’ve shot my only 79 on that course and I’ve also shot low to mid 90s on the same course. Sometimes I think I play better on a longer course for the reasons stated above, I don’t run through the fairway. At the end of the day it’s course management. Not every hole is meant to hit driver off. Sometimes you just have to hit 3 or 5 wood off the tee. That’s the problem with guys like us. We want to drive off every tee. When I play with my Dad and his friends I’m not going a tee back just because I can. They don’t hit as far as i do. I’m 36, he’s 66. If we play a course between 5800-6100 I will hit a hybrid or 5 Iron and still be a 7 iron or less in. Manage your game is my comment. That’s why rounds are slow. At least some reasons.

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