What’s fair?

January 23, 2011

How fair is a 5,600 yard course for the average woman?

What would you think if we told you that a 5,600-yard course would be equivalent to an 8,400-yard course for the average man? How about an 11,200-yard course for Matt Kuchar ? That’s how the math works if fair is defined as having to hit the same clubs to reach
greens in regulation from their respective tees. This concept is what we define as the “fairness test.”

If the average woman should play from 5,600 yards, the average LPGA player should be playing a 9,600-yard course and a good male amateur should play a 10,400-yard course. Sorry, Dustin Johnson, you are at 12,320 yards based on your average drive of 308 yards.

The average woman golfer hits her average tee shot 140 yards.

Based on the data we have collected in our research, the length of the course she should play in order to have the opportunity to reach greens in regulation is 4,200 yards. Note that this is 30 times her average drive, which turns out to be a very good rule of thumb for everyone.

The average male golfer hits his average drive 210 yards and Matt Kuchar’s average drive of 280 yards is within a couple of yards of the PGA Tour average. If the woman is at 4,200 yards, the average male golfer should playing tees at 6,300, and the average PGA pro should be at 8,400 yards. These yardages seem much more reasonable, even though 8,400 yards is approximately 900 yards longer than the longest courses played on the PGA Tour. No wonder those guys are good!

The graph above (click on it to make it larger) shows that the average woman plays courses that are generally more than 1,000 yards too long for her to meet the “fairness test” of reaching greens in regulation. The yardage for the average male is just about right. However, better players usually play courses that are close to 1,000 yards shorter than would be indicated by multiplying their average drive by 30.

The problem is that there are very few 4,200 yard golf courses in the United States, never mind the world. As a result, most women golfers do not have the choice of a set of tees that gives them a fair chance to hit greens in regulation and thus give them the opportunity to score well.

This is why we believe the idea courses with sets of tees that fit players with a wide range of driver swing speeds (from 60 to 110+ MPH) is critical. Courses built (or retro-fit) this way will be more fun for all and much faster to play.

To prove that such courses can be built, read our post about the Old Macdonald course at Bandon.

We do not realistically believe courses will be built that are long enough to “fit” players with faster than average swing speed. Nor would we support such an effort….7,500 yards is plenty long enough.

Some helpful hints to keep in mind when choosing your yardage:

  • Most players should play a course whose yardage is approximately 30 times their average drive. If a course is longer than this, it will be a lot less fun.
  • If you don’t really know how long you hit your average drive (most people significantly overestimate), use two times your average nine iron yardage. If you are among the great majority (98 percent) of golfers, this will be accurate.
  • If your 30 times calculation results in a number shorter than the most forward set of tees at the course you are going to play, read our Move On Up post to see how to deal with this situation.

–Arthur D. Little

21 Comments for this entry

  • Andrew Carothers MD says:

    7 February 2011 Englewood, New Jersey

    A good, well written article.

    Speeding up play is essential. I want to bring back caddies, and especially,
    forecaddies. Let the kids caddie, learn the game, and let them play for no more of a fee than a movie ticket. They have been priced out of golf. Golf play is going down in the USA and GB. I am 74 years old. I have been priced out.

    The PGA and LPGA should play mixed tournaments using appropriate yardage.

    Shoot your age tournaments can be made up on these yardage markers.

  • Kirsten says:

    Really great piece.

    I’m a better-than-average female player, but I still find that I often have to hit a fairway wood on my approach shot on par 4s. The few times I’ve been able to hit driver/iron on most holes (think mid-August when the fairway’s rock hard and the ball rolls a mile) my scores have been so much better, because I’m actually playing the game the way it’s meant to be played.

    I’m submitting an article about your analysis to our EWGA chapter newsletter with a link back to your site, to let our golfers know about this. Thanks again!

  • Angie Gibson says:

    I agree totally even on my handicap I struggle to reach the green in regulation at our club which is 6,240 metres for women. I agree with the 9 club calculation I hit that religiously 65 metres and my average drive is 130metres – it works. How can we get a fair deal on the fairway???

    short stuff!!

  • admin says:

    Thanks for your comment.
    I am amazed that your course is 6,240 metres for woman. That is exceptionally long. What course is it?

    We are working hard on getting a fair deal for you and other players who don’t hit the ball a long way.
    We are trying to get in front of as many influential people in the golf industry as possible so that we can convince them that it is in their best interest to treat players like you better by making courses that fit you better.

    Arthur Little

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  • Dan G, PGA says:

    The USGA defines the bogey female golfer as one who hits their average tee shot 150 yards and is an approximate handicap of 24 on a course of standard difficulty and can reach a hole of 280 yards in two shots. I think the 150 yard average tee shot for a 24 handicapper is a stretch as indicated here. Funny, when Tee It Forward comes out the same organization claims that if you hit your average tee shot 150 yards you should play a course of 3,500-3,700 yards. I ask, where are they? And if they aren’t out there, has there ever been a course built for average women players? I think not and expect to change that here.

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  • Much appreciated for the information and share!

  • bzgirl says:

    Please cite where you got 140yds for the average woman’s tee shot and where you got 30x drive as an appropriate rule of thumb. Does that average include par 3 tee shots? I’m a small framed, non natrually athletic 31 year old female. The first year I took up golf, I hit my tee shots 160. Even the older ladies I’ve played with hit it at least 150. Now, I drive it average of 200, but a 6000yd course would be a little long for comfort. A man who drives it 200 can play a 6000yd course easily because his irons are longer: he’ll be able to hit his 4I 170 while I can only hit my 4I 155 despite the same driving distance. As such, I don’t think a course length based on a multiple of your driving distance is a good estimate.

    On the other hand, golf is a sport and therefore some level of athleticism should be expected. Men exert themselves more than women on full swings and they get rewarded with more distance. I’m not talking about strength, but relative effort; a man will swing nearly as hard as he can (say 90%) and try to crush the ball but a woman will swing smoothly (say 75%) and try to hit it straight. The long game aspect in the sport of golf rewards physical effort and this is where the average woman falls short. Accuracy and finesse is rewarded around the greens. If an average man swings at his 75%, he’d have the same trouble reaching greens from the average men’s tees as well! Therefore, if the standard length course is shortened for the ladies’ current average full swing shots, then it’ll be unfair for the men… they’d have to swing at 90% to have an equal opportunity to reach greens where we swing at 75%. I don’t see other sports making themselves easier for women; for instance, basketball hoop height is the same for both genders.

    Finally, comparing men vs women is somewhat moot as the two genders rarely play against each other. As long as your fellow competitors or opponents in tournaments are playing from the same tees, what difference does it make? And if you’re out there just to have fun, then simply tee it up wherever you feel comfortable or at the junior tees if available as those are around 4000 yds. Don’t worry about what the course was designed for… play your own game!

  • admin says:

    First, thanks for your comment and questions. We’d love to get more like them.

    We got our data on the 140 yard tee shot for the average women from a variety of sources ranging from a major equipment manufacturer, the data complied by Bill Amick, the noted golf course architect, observation and data from Golf Laboratories, a leading golf lab. The 140 yard average only includes shots hit with a driver.

    The 30x drive rule of thumb is based on a player being able to reach all greens in regulation with well struck shots while using all the clubs in their bag for approach shots.We have been working with Barney Adams, the spokesperson for the PGA/USGA’s Tee It Forward program. The way Barney figures it, a player should have on average an 8 iron approach shot (like the pros do). This would bring the multiplier to 27.5x or a course length of 5500 yards for a player who averages 200 yards off the tee.

    Your comments about effort get to the heart of the matter which is swing speed. Swing speed is the primary determinant of how far the ball travels and is completely independent of age or gender. Technique, not effort, is what creates faster swing speed (think Lorena Ochoa). In fact, in tests, players who try to increase swing speed by using a lot of effort generally lose swing speed.

    What we are trying to do is to persuade the golf industry to build/refit courses with tees that fit swing speeds from 65 to 115 mph which translates into average drives of 140 to 280 yards. Then to your last point (“play your own game!”), players will have the CHOICE to select a set of tees that fits the way they play.

    In almost all cases, there are no tees that fit the 65mph swing speed player (4000-4200 yards) and in many cases, there are not even tees for the 75mph swing speed (4700-4900 yards). In that case follow the idea we suggest in our Move On Up post and tee up in the fairway.

    I hope this answers some of your questions and comments.
    Again, thank you for them.
    Arthur Little
    golfwithwomen website

  • Steve says:

    I generally agree that existing courses may be too long to attract new golfers, particularly women.

    However, the “Barney Adams rationale” that amateurs should be hitting approximately the same clubs to greens as the pros is flawed.

    In many tournaments the pros (men and women)play a boring game – blasting drivers and hitting 8 iron/wedges to greens. For the rest of us there is great satisfaction in hitting the green with a longer club such as a 3 hybrid or even a wood. Or if we miss the green, getting up and down. To hit 8 iron/sand wedge on most holes takes much of the challenge and satisfaction out of the game.

    Great traditional courses built in the pre WW II years had lengths of 6,000-6,500 yards. Granted, they are too short for the pros. Based on my experience, that length seems to be about right for most men (except for the shortest hitters).

    I do agree that all golfers should have an opportunity to reach most greens in regulation but not with short irons.

  • admin says:

    Thanks for your comments.
    What Barney is trying to do is put us amateurs in the same position as the pros and we agree with him, up to a point.
    The yardages we suggest depend on a player’s swing speed and range from 4200 to over 7000 yards in order to “fit”swing speeds from 65mph to 105+mph.
    Where we differ from Barney is that our yardages contemplate a player using all the clubs in their bag for approach shots so that they can have the satisfaction to which you refer.
    Having said that we agree with both you and Barney that most courses are too long for the every day player.
    Using our math, a 6000 yard course should fit the average man whose average drive is 200 yards. The 6500 yard course would be good for someone who hits their average drive 220. A good rule of thumb for the length of course a golfer should play is 30 times their average drive.
    Arthur Little

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  • Susie says:

    Question – Under the Play it Forward concept – What about the female player who hits her driver 200 yards, but not often very straight. She finds trouble on 80% of her drives, but she hits it at least 200. She’ll give 2700 yards (averaging almost 100 yards a hole) to the gal who hits it 150, chips close most often, and putts the eyes out of it. Her length is not a real advantage, and she’ll get wiped out by the shorter player with a great short game to whom she ceded all that distance. Fair? Seems to me that Play it Forward is “fun” for casual golf, but I doubt it’s fairness in tournament play. Comments?

  • admin says:

    Thanks for yours comments and question.
    Play It Forward is a concept with which we totally agree. It is really meant to get players thinking about what length course they should be playing as most of us play courses that are too long for us to be able to reach greens in regulation with any consistency.
    Indeed for many, if not most, women the great majority of courses don’t have a set of tees from which they can reach any greens in regulation.
    As to your tournament play question, each competition (no matter at what level) will have a set course and
    its own set of rules (in addition to the USGA rules).
    All the competitors will play that course and be subject to those rules so the Play It Forward concept does not really apply.
    Hope this answers your question.
    Arthur Little

  • MsTwilight says:

    Hi Arthur!

    Your article presents a lot of fascinating food for thought! As a beginner golfer who drives around 150 yards and is struggling to “get longer” just to be able to make greens in regulation, all of this information is encouraging and eye-opening.

    Question for you: According to the rule that you should play from a yardage about 30x your average drive, I should be playing a 4500-yard course. According to Play Golf America’s “Tee It Forward” campaign (see the chart at http://www.playgolfamerica.com/index.cfm?action=tif_details), I should be playing a course that’s only 3500-3700 yards long.

    Do you think the latter yardage is too short?

  • admin says:

    Thanks for your comment. Before I answer your question, I’d like to say that both Jann and I are encouraged by what we heard and the conversations we had at the PGA Merchandise Show at the end of January. The industry seems to finally be listening to the need for much more thought about shorter forward tees and that they should be positioned based on data rather than looking and playing as if they were an after thought.

    The short answer to your question is YES.
    In my conversations with the USGA, they do not intend to make further use the yardage numbers that they and the PGA published last Summer when Tee It Forward was announced. We have yet to find where those yardages

    The 30X average drive yardage that we suggests assumes that a player will use all the clubs in their bag on approach shots. Thus for you, with an average drive of 150 yards, we suggest a 4500 yard course.
    Barney Adams who is working with the PGA on Tee It Forward comes at it a bit differently than we do. He assumes that the player will have an approach shot averaging an 8 iron on par 4s & 5s and an average of a 7iron shot on par 3s. He’d like to see us “normal” players have the same level of challenge as the pros. If you work through all the math, Barney’s “multiplier” comes out to 27.5X the average drive or a course of 4125 for you.
    So we both think that 3500-3700 yards is too short for you. While it might be a lot of fun (which we strongly encourage), we think that you’d feel a lack of challenge.
    Having said all that, the important thing is that you find a course yardage at which you feel comfortable (which may mean teeing up in the fairway for now). We’d strongly suggest that you and other players who hit their tees shots in the same yardage range as you put some real pressure on the courses that you play to put tees at a length that allows you to reach greens in regulation.
    If they don’t know how to go about that, refer them to the Tee Positioning paper under The Research on this website.
    Arthur Little

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