Most of us are simply staggered by current driving distance stats from the PGA Tour:

  • 21 PGA Tour players average 300 yard tee shots
  • 42 Nationwide Tour players average 300 yard tee shots
  • The average PGA Tour Drive is 288 yards
  • 15 percent of PGA Tour Drives now exceed 345 yards
  • 0.25 percent of PGA Tour Drives exceeds 400 yards (about 16 per tournament)

What’s most staggering is the exaggerated influence those drives have on course design. Those 63 long driving players represent 19 percent of tour players, and about 0.00025 percent of the U.S. golfing population. If there are 100 times that many other golfers matching that length, their combined tee shots would amount to only 0.1 percent of annual U.S. tee shots, which doesn’t seem like as big a problem as the press would make it.

The ball manufacturers sell hope to the other 25 million golfers, but most don’t get actual additional distance. And yet, golf courses keep getting longer to accommodate this miniscule portion of golfers, when achieving proper total playing distance for the masses is critical to two key elements in golf enjoyment – scoring and speed of play. If average players can’t reach greens in regulation, with even their best shots, they must play additional shots, raising the time of play by 10-20 minutes.

The extra time and strokes diminish a course’s popularity and profitability, and real even estate sales, according to John Wait of Sirius Golf Advisors, a leading consultant on golf operations. He consulted on a senior oriented residential golf course in Florida with forward tees measuring over 5,700 yards. He told them they wouldn’t sell many lots or memberships if women were responsible for the home buying decision (and they typically are!) with a course playing, by his figures, like a 7,152-yard course for men, and recommended adjusting tees to a better yardage.

Many of today’s courses could benefit from tee adjustments. Any course built to the modern standard of approximately 7,000/6,700/6,400/5,600 yards now often play at unsuitable yardages for almost everyone, with the back tees too short, and the middle and forward tees too long.

Golfers want a course that’s not too hard, but not too easy. Men gravitate to tees they enjoy, and the 6,000-6,400 yards tees are typically the busiest among males. “Male ego” plays a part in tee selection, as most men won’t play courses marked below 6,000 yards, while seniors prefer course yardage well below that figure. At many courses, those choices are often either not present, or combined together, which subtly forces players into playing too long a yardage for their games.

Shot distances for common skill levels are fairly well known, based on research by many, including ASGCA member Bill Amick, who published his research on in 1996. His data is summarized (with updates) in the following table:

I recommend five distinct tee areas for championship courses for peak popularity. I combine groups as shown by the colors, and calculate average shot distances, favoring the shorter group of each combination, and leaving Mal by himself as a representative group to arrive at this table:

Assuming the desire of each player to reach greens in regulation with good shots while using a variety of clubs means that:

  • Par 3 holes range from wedge to about 90 percent of driver distance
  • Par 4 holes range from a potentially drivable hole (110 percent of typical tee shot distance) to the maximum distance reachable in two shots
  • Par 5 holes range from reachable in two to driver, wood, 5 irons

For some groups, I defaulted to the USGA minimum length for par, and exceeded it for the Tiger tees for par 4s. The “ideal” total length might look like this:

You may debate some assumptions – like the long par 3 which some don’t like, or the need for all players to reach all greens. These back tee yardages are similar to current PGA Tournament course lengths. The forward tees back up John Wait’s calculations of good course lengths for various groups, but may surprise many at how short courses should be for most player groups. Of course, length isn’t everything in golf and neither is total yardage. It’s not as important to get to any ideal yardage as it is to judge how each hole plays and fits the land.

However, if your course is unpopular, you might look at adding and relocating tees where possible to achieve a better length balance for the enjoyment of your clientele. And, if you are rebuilding tees, you might also consider sizing them to the to accommodate the play of the three largest groups of players – Mal, Gail and Sam – making sure the tees that play from 6,000-6,400 yards get over half of the overall total tee space.

Tees were originally a functional afterthought, but gradually evolved in design, which should continue to afford full enjoyment to the ever increasing skill levels of those who choose to play this great game.

–Jeffrey D. Brauer

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