It’s a classic first-tee scene you’ve likely seen or heard play out countless times, or perhaps you’ve been part of it yourself: four mid-handicappers wheel up to the tee box, set a couple of wagers, then examine the scorecard.
“Which tees we playin’?” someone says. “Blues are 6,611, whites are 6,232.”
“I’m easy,” says another member of the group.
Silence for a few beats.
A third golfer breaks the quiet: “Let’s go blues. Fairways look firm. I think we can handle 6,600.”
No one objects.
Shame, because they would have been happier playing the shorter tees.
That’s not speculative. It’s an actual finding in the latest Golf Facility Market Trend Watch report, commissioned by the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Among the queries the online survey posed to more than 35,000 respondents — a group that included golf-course architects, superintendents, general managers, facility owners/operators and golf professionals — was this one:
If you have added more forward tees in recent years, which of the following statements describes your experience thus far?
There were all kinds of positive outcomes. About 20 percent of respondents said the new tees led to more rounds played; roughly a third said the tees have led to a more diverse player base, with the same percentage saying the tees also helped disperse wear and tear across tee surfaces in general; and nearly 40 percent said shorter tee options have helped with pace of play.
But this is this response that most caught my eye: About 3 out of every 4 respondents said the addition of new forward tees “increased player satisfaction and enjoyment” (with a 69 percent approval rating at public courses and a whopping 78% at private courses).
Imagine that! Simply playing up a set (or two) of tees can make you a happier, more satisfied golfer.
It makes sense, because (1) most amateurs don’t hit the ball as far as they think they do, which leads to a lot of hybrids and fairway woods into par-4s, and (2) most courses don’t offer enough tee options for shorter hitters. Among the many eye-opening takeaways from R&A and USGA’s 2020 Distance Insights Report were its finding on recreational golfers, beginning with their average driving distance: 216 yards. Yep, just 216.
And when you single out mid- and high-handicappers, the distances get shorter still. According to the report, male golfers with handicaps between 13 and 20 average about 200 yards off the tee, while male players north of that handicap range hit their drives an average of 176 yards. Try playing the middle tees on most courses with a driving average of 176 yards, or even 200 yards for that matter. It’s not much fun.
Meanwhile, most courses aren’t doing their part to help the cause.
According to the report, only about 18% of U.S. courses offer an appropriate playing length for average drives of 175 yards, while only about 60% offer an appropriate length for average drives of 200 yards.
A quick personal aside: Last October, I played a round on what can be a brute of a course, a fire-breathing U.S. Open venue with sloping fairways and unforgiving greens. My playing partners and I — all of whom are mid-handicappers — had two tee distances from which to realistically choose: 6,506 or 6,122. We debated the merits of each, heeded the counsel of our caddies and elected the shorter option. Best golf decision I made all year. About four and a quarter hours later, I had shot the best round of my life.
No surprise, it was one of the most fun rounds of my life, too.