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Getting real about golf tees

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Last week I played in a charity golf tournament. The format was a scramble, and walking to my assigned cart, I found I was playing in a foursome with two other ladies and one low-handicap man. What were they thinking?

Forward Golf Tees
The way some golf courses set up tees, both for tournament play and everyday play, needs a rethink, Katharine Dyson writes.
Forward Golf TeesWomen's Golf Tees

With this format, women get a huge advantage off the forward tee. Get a long-driving woman in the group, and that woman can blow by many men's drives, setting up the second shot with a short iron into the green. For this reason alone, it usually works to the team's advantage to spread the women out among the foursomes.

News flash to the organizers of these events: You should pay heed to the gender mix as well as the tee locations. The way some golf courses are designed with the forward tee placements in stupid positions - like in a corner with a tree hanging out — and the rule that women have to play from these tees, no matter what their ability, make about as much sense as alligators on Newport National.

The way the tees are configured, both for tournament play and everyday play, needs a rethink. Many long hitting women prefer playing from tees with more length and challenge than the forward tees offer. Playing on one course recently, the forward tee was a mere 68 yards long. No carries, no elevation. Flat. You could just about have putted it, for heaven's sake.

Sometimes I've had to "lay up" rather than use my driver, as hitting out on a dogleg meant running out of fairway into the woods or into a brook. I hate doing this. I know, I know, course management could be practiced here, but from the back tees, the guys get to use their drivers. Laying up on these holes just doesn't seem right.

Most golf courses, after all, are designed from the back tees with dramatic elevation changes, blind shots, carries over ponds, wetlands, trees and arroyos providing the adrenalin rush. Drives from cliff tops make you feel like your teeing off from the top of the world. But does driving from the forward tees far below provide the same thrill? No way.

Another thing: please, please resist the urge to call the forward tees "women's tees." Reprogram your mind to delete this phrase from your mental computer.

Shouldn't golfers, men and women, play from the tees that best suit their game? If you have a single digit handicap, go ahead, move back to the tips. But if you've got 20 or more, move up where you can more comfortably enjoy a great game of golf. I know one guy of a certain age who loves playing up front and uses it to his best advantage in tournaments, smiling all the way to the bank.

And what happens when there is a huge discrepancy between the forward tee and the one just back? I have looked at countless cards with typical distances of 200-300 yards between the tips and the next two or three sets. Then there is a yawning gap of 1,000 or more yards between the front two tees, meaning you either play your round at 4,900 yards or 5,900 yards. The Goldilocks factor: one too short, the latter too long.

At the famed Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, for example, the distance between the first three sets of tees starting at 6,817 yards is about 300 yards. The yardage from the white tees is 6,179, while the upfront golds (the next set of tees) play to 5,159 yards. Many of the hole-by-hole gaps are about 80 yards. That means, for the mid-handicappers who want to play at about 5,600 yards, the only way you can do this is to play a combination of tees.

I did that, circling the holes on the card to create that yardage. Fact is, courses can easily create this yardage when they reprint the cards, and some indeed have already done this and rated the combination tee yardage.

So I suggest you look at the card before you tee off and circle those holes that are par 4s playing 370 yards or less from the next tee back, let's say the whites. Then add up the total yardage to bring the play up to 5,400 to around 5,700 yards and play this combo of tees. Of course, in order to post your score for handicap purposes, the courses themselves will have to get up to speed and get the combo rated.

Four years ago when Clive Clark was brought in to transform the old Perry Hollow track in New Hampshire into the classy private course at Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club, using four tee locations, he put together six different tee combinations - i.e. black/blue, red/white - making the course eminently playable for all range of golfers with yardages from 7,017 to 5,229 yards.

It's simple. No tees labeled ladies or seniors: just colors, gold, purple, magenta, whatever, plus yardages with appropriate handicaps for the tees. You just go from whatever works for you.

It's about time other clubs deep-six the labels for ladies. And once, just once, I think every man, especially course superintendents and pros, should play from the forward tees. I'm not sure how many have, unless they're over 80. And that's age, not score.

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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