Move On Up

December 4, 2010

The sixth green at Old Macdonald in Bandon Dunes. Photo by Wood Sabold, courtesy of Bandon Dunes

“Be Bold. Take teeing areas into your own hands.” So says Mike Keiser the man who built the renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.  As usual, he has a sound idea.

Swing speed is the prime factor in determining how far a golf ball will travel. Most golf courses are way too long for players with driver swing speeds of 70 MPH or less. This group of players, which includes most beginners, juniors, women and seniors have swing speeds between 60 and 70 mph and as a result hit their average drives 125 to 145 yards. Most courses do not have sets of tees that “fit” these players.

Do the math! The average woman hits her drives 140 yards. Extrapolating from that on a par 4: perfect drive goes 140 yards, perfect fairway shot at 85 percent of her drive goes 120 yards for a total of 260 yards to get to the green in regulation. How many courses have par 4s that are 260 yards or less?

As a result, slower swing speed players are more often than not forced to play courses that are too long for them on which they have no chance of reaching greens in regulation. It also means that they are frequently faced with forced carries right in front of the tee that are physically impossible for them or forced carries that are placed in just the wrong place on the hole. Not fun!

However, if you are among this group of players, it does not mean that you can’t enjoy playing these courses. If a course does not have a set of tees that fits you, just move up and create your own teeing ground. But how do you figure out the appropriate place to “tee up?” The “65% Solution” is a simple method that you may find helpful as a guideline. It will help you calculate the overall length of the course that fits your game and the yardage at which to play each hole on the course. It is detailed in the sidebar that accompanies this article.

Once you have calculated the distance from which you’d like to play a hole, find a flat spot in the fairway that is as close to that distance as possible. Then tee up the ball and drive from there. Use the 400 yard, par 4 in the sidebar as an example of how this works on the course. Assuming that the most forward tee is at 310 yards, you would want to choose a teeing ground 50 yards forward of that tee in order to get to the desired 260 yards. You can either pace off the 50 yards or use a laser to make the measurement.

There are a few additional considerations when you pick your teeing area:

  • Make sure you have picked a spot that feels comfortable to you. Remember, getting a flat spot that is as much like a tee as possible is more important than getting the yardage just right. When in doubt, move up a few yards farther.
  • Sometimes, the distance you have chosen would place your teeing area in the rough. If that is the case, go to the nearest flat spot on the fairway.
  • Avoid a forced carry if possible: If you don’t feel you can negotiate a forced carry that is right in front of your chosen teeing area, it may mean that you need to move past the hazard thus shortening the hole somewhat more than the 65% Solution would indicate. That’s OK.
  • In other cases there may be a hazard that is some distance from your chosen teeing area such as a stream that you can’t carry and is unavoidable because it crosses the entire hole. In these cases, you may have to lay up on your tee shot.
  • Some par-3 holes are designed so that they are just tees and a green with no fairway area in between. If this is the case, the best option is to tee off from the very front of the most forward tee.
  • When choosing your teeing area try to create as straight a line to the hole as possible. However, pick a spot that allows you to hit away from hazards i.e. if there is a pond on the left side of the hole tee up on the left side and aim away from it.

Many benefits accrue when you use this system. You will enjoy the game a lot more. Playing a course that fits your swing speed will enable you to get on greens in regulation and putt for birdies. It will speed your play, often by as much as 15 minutes or more per round. You will feel much less pressure from people playing behind you as you will be able to keep ahead of them more easily. And lastly, you’ll be able to comfortably play courses that you may now think would be much too difficult and intimidating because they are too long and don’t have a set of tees that fit your game. It all adds up to less frustration and feeling better about your game and yourself.

There are some issues with employing this approach:

  • You may feel like you are “cheating.” Get over it! You should not be penalized by an unfairly designed tee system.
  • You may get some comments from other players particularly if you are playing with someone you don’t know well. If so, just let them know that this is how you play. If you’re brave or feeling self-righteous say, “I’m correcting for unfair design” or just say, “I’m playing the hole length that’s right for me.” You’ll be a lot more compatible playing partner if you’re not feeling so discriminated against by the way the course is designed.

The hardest place to use this approach comfortably is on the tees closest to the clubhouse where people other than the ones with whom you are playing may be watching. If you do feel too uncomfortable, use the regular forward tees on these holes.

  • It is not possible to use the scores for handicap purposes or if you are playing in a competition.
  • Because you are doing something unusual, some people will be concerned that you are “beating up the course.”  If you are careful to pick up your tees and repair any damage that you may have caused, this issue will rapidly disappear.

So the next time you play a course that is too long for your game, follow Mike Keiser’s advice and “Be Bold.” It is highly likely that you will be uncomfortable the first couple of times you try it, but your courage will be rewarded by your greatly enhanced enjoyment of the game. Remember, golf is supposed to be fun!

–Arthur D. Little

31 Comments for this entry

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  • Pat says:

    This is a great idea for beginning golfers to use to become more comfortable with the game and to build confidence. I have heard the system from other players… they call it “Playing From the Green” instead of “Playing From the Tees.” Although I have never used the system myself (I almost always am playing in a league tournament) but it sounds like a great way to manage a practice round, especially if you are with friends who understand the system. No handicap submission of course, but great practice.

  • admin says:

    Pat,
    Thanks for your comment.
    It is a great way to play a course that would otherwise be too long and thus too hard and no fun. Jann and I use it when we travel particularly to places where the forward tees are in the 5600-6000 yard range.
    Arthur Little

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