How Long A Course Should You Play?

Over the last several years I’ve become convinced that a good deal of the problem with slow rounds is that players are not teeing off from the proper distances. Guys with white tee distance—in a fit of machismo—are teeing off from the blues, and red tee-ers from the whites. Inadequate distances forces them to swing harder, causing more missed fairways. Drives that fall too far from the green force the use of long irons and fairway woods, resulting in missing regulation, and eat up time with costly chips, flubbed flops and multiple shots out of greenside bunkers. Long shots into the green leave players far from the hole, requiring extra putts.

It’s interesting that players who would roll their eyes in disgust if a woman tried to tee off from the whites nonetheless will pull the same stunt by starting at the tips.

Playing from the wrong tees also greatly reduces the fun of playing golf. Ninety nine percent of us are not practicing for the US Open. It’s simply a lot more fun to hit driver-eight iron-putt-putt than driver-long iron-wedge-chip-putt-putt on every hole. And if you do regularly play with guys who hit from the back tees, just use the handicap system to level things out.

But what are the correct tees? Chris Mile of the Miles of Golf pro shop in Ann Arbor has a great rule of thumb. Simply multiply your average driving distance by 28. That’ll give you the yardage that you should play from; choose the tees closest to that distance.

This means that a player who hits the ball 200 yards on a drive should play from the tees closest to 5,600 yards.

I use the 200 yard drive figure deliberately. Studies have consistently shown that the average golfer drives the ball 200 yards on average, but THINKS he hits it 30 yards further. And remember that it’s the AVERAGE that counts. Occasionally uncorking a 270 yarder is not the same as hitting for an average of 270. You also have to consider all the times you don’t hit it that far.

Finally, parking the ego at the door: In 2010, the average PGA Tour player hits the ball just 282.7 yards on average.

Chris Mile explains the logic behind his 28 rule:

The logic behind the “Driver x 28″ is that an ideal course will have a combination of easy, moderately difficult, and difficult holes.  Knowing the length of your drive, you can estimate how far you hit your other clubs.  For example, most golfers will hit their 6 iron 64% of the distance of their driver.  If a medium distance par 4 is a drive and #6 iron, you know the length of a good par four for you is 164% of the distance of your drive.  Having this information plus definitions for short, medium, and long holes, you can compute the total distance for an ideal course for you based upon your driving distance.



4 thoughts on “How Long A Course Should You Play?”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you on this.  Much more enjoyable (personally) to be hitting 7-9 irons onto the green than trying to hit it with 4 or 5 irons.  I have enough trouble with the short irons! smile

    Also, I’ve had the “pleasure” of occasionally playing with guys (and they’re always guys) who tee off from the tips but their drives aren’t even as long as mine!  And maybe it’s just me, but having to wait for them to each play multiple shots between mine just messes with my game somehow.  Just in my head, I know, but it does!


  2. I am going to keep this theory a secret in my group.
    Trying to balance my ego with reality, I think my average might be in the 240 range these days.  That comes out to 6720, which is longer on both courses than the green tees (9 yards longer on one, 200 on the other).  I will stay back at white for now (3rd of 4 tees). 

    Women on Red (forward)
    For men:
    Our rule is <10 handicap AND <50 -> Green (back)
    >65 -> Gold (just behind red)
    otherwise White.

    I have told my group that my goal is to have an under 10 handicap in 7 more years so I won’t have to worry or be confused by changing tees.  But in reality, I have had a 6 point index drop in 2 months, and a couple more low 80s will probably put me at a 9 and moving back.

  3. Golf Blogger is so right about golfers over-estimating distances and playing the wrong set of tees.  It is relatively common for me to see a foursome playing the back tees and struggling.  Usually the group has one player who can inconsistently hit a long ball.  He becomes the leader and pressures everyone else to play from the back even though none of the group really belongs there.  The result is a long slow day and 4 very frustrated golfers.

    I saw the short essay in the Miles’ newsletter and it makes a lot of sense.  My hope is this estimating procedure becomes widely known and golfers start matching their abilities with the proper set of tees.

  4. Would you rather bat 500 and play T ball or bat 250 and play real baseball. That is the choice the “real” golfers are proposing to others.


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