Playing From The Wrong Tees

Slow play on the golf course has come increasingly under fire both on public courses, and on the Tours. For most of us, pace of play on the Tours is not an issue—Tiger’s complaints not withstanding. But among amateurs on public courses, slow play is being blamed in part for a general decline (or at least stagnation) in the number of rounds played.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the reasons for the five hour round. Experts blame practice swings, not playing ready golf, and course routing issues. But I think the principal one is that amateurs are playing from the wrong tees. The simple fact of the matter is that most golfers are not good enough to play from the tips (or even the blues)—and yet so many do. Consider:

  • The average drive of the average male golfer is 192 yards (according to the USGA and major manufacturers). That same golfer, however, thinks that he hits the ball 230 yards on average.
  • Only one in 50 golfers routinely hits drives of 250 yards or more.
  • The average female golfer hits a drive of 135 yards. Seniors on average are able to drive 180 yards.
  • All golfers, in fact, consistently overestimate the length of their shots—both on drives and from the fairway.
  • The average score for a round of golf remains at 100—where it has been for many decades. Just 22% of golfers manage to break 90 on a regular basis. Only 5% manage to break 80.
  • The average handicap for a man is 16.1. The average handicap for a woman is 28. And considering that it’s only the most dedicated golfers that bother to keep an official handicap, the handicap for the general population is likely much higher
  • Less than 1 percent of the golfing population plays to a low single digit handicap.

Here’s why it matters: Playing a short drive from the back tees is going to add at least one shot for fourteen of the eighteen holes on the course. On a par 4, a drive that falls short of the legitimate range of your short to mid irons (wedge to seven) drastically reduces your chance of hitting the green in regulation. You may have the length to cover the distance in two, but with a long iron or wood as your second, chances are that you won’t hit the green. So you end up taking an extra shot or two trying to get up from a greenside bunker or grass.

Further, if you’re forced to hit a driver on every hole to get the distance required, you also increase your chances of landing in the rough, in the trees, or worse. In that case, even if you DO hit it 250 yards, you add a shot getting out of trouble. On a par 5, golfers not only face this risk on the tee shot, but also on the second, where the necessity of playing a long wood to get into scoring range presents a second opportunity to get into trouble.

Then there’s the lost ball issue. When you are forced to constantly hit the big sticks, you’re going to lose balls. And time will be lost looking for them.

All of those shots add up. Assume three minutes for each shot per player (travel time, locating the ball, picking a club practice swings, watching the ball flight, putting the club away, etc.). Multiply that by 14 extra shots per round per player and you’ll find that each player loses 42 minutes to poor tee selection; for the group, that adds up to 168 minutes. Even with some overlap (two players preparing at the same time), and holes where you don’t actually take the extra shot, that adds an hour-and-a-half to two hours to a round.

Poor tee selection thus explains the five to six hour round very neatly.

I’ll add that it’s possible poor tee selection will add a shot on all eighteen, since playing from the back tees also reduces your chances of hitting a green on a par 3.

Playing from the wrong tees (and the insane lengths of courses these days), also may explain why—even as equipment improves—scores have remained constant. Any playing gains in equipment have been more than offset by the added distance (either by the course design, or self-inflicted by playing from the tips). Players purchase a driver that’s “ten yards longer” and then play from tees that are twenty yards further back.

Playing from the correct tees not only will improve pace of play, it also will improve player scores, and thus enjoyment of the game. And all of that can only be good for the game.

 

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4 thoughts on “Playing From The Wrong Tees”

  1. Just like everything else in the country the GOLF industry is going thru a correction or maybe the people are just sick and tired of being told what to do.
    everything levels out and the strongest survive.Isn’t day to day life fast enough.

    maybe it’s time the better players should move to a different course.

    The golf course’s themself wants you to come and enjoy their beautiful course’s;  but don’t look, PLAY FASTER.
    Buy are beer from our beer cart; but don’t drink it,PLAY FASTER.
    We are family frendly but little jimmy and sally can’t take a extra shot at the ball, PLAY FASTER.
    Seniors are welcome, but PLAY FASTER.
    I could go on!

    Now that your head is spinning and your heart pounding because you just played 18 holes fast, you can play another 18 and don’t forget what the course PGA instructor told you ” slow it down TEMPO,TEMPO,TEMPO.

    Reply
  2. SLOW PLAY!  The BANE of “REAL” golfers. 
    I just NEED to sound off!  People will NOT play from the proper tees because they are still labeled as WOMEN’S, men’s, etc.  Let’s use—forward, middle, championship – whatever. 
    My handicap is only 23.  I play fast and yes—I am a female.  Men ARE slower than women.  What’s with the plumb bobbing and walking all over the green lining up a putt just to 3 putt?  I regularly play with men.  Before the drive is hit-one guy takes 40 secs.  (I’ve timed them all)
    Another 32 secs., another 22 secs.  I take 1 practice swing and hit the ball.  So we’re talking 30 mins/round just to hit a drive.  Not to mention the fluffing, moving, Mulligans (add up all those seconds AGAIN) and NOT taking penalties.  I want a true handicap.  I’m in a few leagues and the handicapper for one of them.  I also read up on the rules. 
    My home course is 5400 yds. for the forward tees.  There’s a LOT of men that should be playing from these tees.  BUT—they are labeled as the “Women’s”.  I played today in 40 degree weather—I was moving on at a rapid pace until I caught up with a man.  Good grief!  I aged!  Instead of him asking me to join up—he just continued hitting 2 balls and lolly gagging around the course.  I did what I hate—I drove into him—and trust me—my longest drive today in the wet was 180.  I know men will answer with women stories.  That’s your right.  All I know is one of my female friend golfers and I walked 18 holes and finished in 2 hrs. and 50 mins. until we caught up with two men.  All golfers should play to their abilities.  It makes the game more enjoyable for all of us.  So what if you hit off the forward tees?  I know chix that hit off the blues.  Stop watching the slo-pros and play the game.  I HATE six hour rounds.  Four hours and fifteen minutes is long enough for 18 holes.  (by the way—I know someone will want to know what I scored—48 for nine holes.  (par is 76 from forwards)

    Reply
  3. Tee’s are part of it.  Use of carts, on walkable courses, is another piece.  I think Eight minute tee times contribute to slower pacing.  I think the number of social golfers has also increased as a proportion of players on the course.  I don’t see the courses doing anything, except occasional harassment, to improve the situation.  If they can load a course with a group every eight minutes, the course only has a problem when the backup reaches the first tee.

    Reply
  4. Wrong tees and ready golf…absolutely. My golf buddy and I will shoot 18 in 2 1/2 hours. It always amazes me the lack of common sense on the course. One that drives me nuts is the guys that hit there approach shots at around 100 yards, leave the cart there and walk up to the green. Then have to walk all the way back to retrieve the cart. Grrrrrr. Cart path only is another. Person hits ball to the opposite side of the fairway/rough. Walks all the way over to see if it’s his ball, walks all the way back to get a club, walks all the way back to shoot. TAKE A COUPLE CLUBS WITH YOU ON THE FIRST WALK.
    I could go on for hours, you all know what goes on.

    Reply

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