Tee It Forward
Dave Tutelman -
July 19, 2019
I've tried the Tee It Forward
pushed by the PGA and USGA. I like it. A lot! Here's why I think it could be a
big step forward, and what still has to be done to make it a reality.
2011 (perhaps earlier; 2011 is the earliest reference I can cite), the
PGA of America and the USGA started to push a new initiative called
It Forward". The reasoning is that people will enjoy golf
they play from the proper tees.
Fair enough. But what
constitutes the "proper tees"? Instead of being hidebound by
"white=men, gold=seniors, red=women" or some similar set of
assumptions, Tee It Forward is based on a chart that says, "If
your typical good drives go this far, then here is the length of the
18-hole course you should be playing. Choose a set of tees of the appropriate course length." The chart, copied from the PGA web page, is at the right.
|If you prefer
graphs to tables, here's the chart in graph form. Same information,
different presentation. The red curve is the upper yardage and the blue
curve the lower yardage. You should be playing a course whose total,
18-hole yardage is between the red and blue curves.
write this in 2019. I had heard about Tee It Forward for several years,
but didn't pay much attention to it. My local courses were putting in
senior tees, and I'm a senior, right? I just turned 78. That's
senior. Most courses have set the threshold age for senior privileges
between 55 and 65, and I'm well above that. But I have been losing distance since I was 65; that
is well over a decade at this point. In 2006, when I was 65, I could
drive it 250 yards routinely, and I hit a 5-iron 175-180 yards. Today,
my better drives are about 190 yards, and a well-struck 5-iron is 150
I took a hard look at the chart early this year. I was
coming off a whole year (all of 2018) with no golf at all for health
reasons. Health is better this year, and it seems reasonable to set
fresh goals for my golf as I return to the sport. The chart says I
should be playing a course of 5000-5200 yards.
According to the
chart, the "senior tees" at most of my usual golf courses are
long for me. (More detail below.)
tried playing my TIF (Tee It Forward) tees
wherever I could find them. It was an experiment; I was not committed
to it for my golf game going forward. But I soon discovered I like it.
A lot! Here are the reasons -- followed by the reasons I blame for its
not taking off. My conclusions section is a set of essential steps the
golf industry must take in order to make Tee It Forward happen for real.
Tee It Forward -- Why?
The first thing I noticed when I switched to my TIF tees at courses
where I was very familiar with longer tees was not
that it was easier. Yes, it was easier -- but that was not what struck
me. The real difference was that golf was more like the game I played in my early sixties. The table
was right, at least for me.
- My second shot at most par-fours
is back to an approach shot. I had gotten to the point where I could
not reach par-fours in regulation, if I played from my "traditional"
- My approach shots are with the clubs I could remember
from my early sixties. If a really good drive on #10 at Charleston
North used to give me a 6-iron to the green back then, today's really
drive gives me today's 6-iron to the green.
- If I make no
mistakes, I should get a par. Before TIF, par had become a reward for
outstanding play. With TIF, it is a reward for executing the shot I
intend reasonably well. Outstanding play is rewarded with birdies. (And
I got my first eagle in years this week: par five, perfect drive, very good
2-hybrid, and a pitch-in from 30 yards. That is one way I could earn an
eagle 15 years ago, and this had a similar feel.)
- Golf is
back to a thinking game. I have to think on the tee before I pull a
club for my tee shot. My game from the white tees at most courses had
become, "It's not
a par-3, so let's hit driver. Grip it 'n' rip it!" No more. Most are
still driver holes,
but there are plenty of holes where a 3-wood or even a hybrid or iron
is called for off the tee. I'll give examples below.
- It seems
almost paradoxical, but the challenges are actually more meaningful. I
can think about breaking 80 again. Hey, at age 78, I can think about
shooting my age. Up until TIF, I thought continuing loss of distance
would make my scores balloon faster than my age. But, from my proper
tees, my score is once again related to skill more than power. (In
fact, I finally did shoot my age. A week after my 78th birthday, I shot a 77
from the 5071-yard tees at Charleston Springs North.)
just more fun!
From time to time, I still play an occasional round from the whites.
It's a slog, hitting nothing but driver from the tee, and still looking
at 3-wood and perhaps a long iron after that.
Not the case from my TIF tees; I have a decent chance at a green in
regulation, as long as I hit solid, straight shots. Obviously, some
holes are more challenging than others in this regard -- but it was
also that way when I was 65 and the whites were my TIF tees.
- Last -- but far from least -- it could help grow the game.
Many reports have golf shrinking as a pastime, in the United States and
perhaps worldwide. Tee It Forward could help stop this trend and even
reverse it, in two ways. (1) As noted in the last point, it makes golf
more fun. (2) One of the big knocks on golf, in the surveys to assess
the allegation that golf is shrinking, is that it takes too long to
play a round. One thing that contributes to slow play is playing from
tees too long for your game; Tee It Forward would speed things up.
If Tee It
Forward is such a great idea, why is it not catching on? Why are so few
golfers adopting their TIF tees? There are a bunch of factors, but I
think most boil down to ignorance, ego, and opportunity.
I am a public course golfer, not a club member. Most
of the golfers I encounter have never heard of Tee It Forward, and
almost all who recognize the name have never seen the tables. Some of
them ask me what rules allow me to play the red tees -- which they
usually think of as "the ladies' tees". When I tell them about the TIF
chart, their eyes open in surprise.
It is also well worth mentioning
that many, perhaps even most, of them should not be playing the course
any longer than I do; they do not hit the ball farther than me.
What should golf be doing about this?
the PGA and USGA have not gotten their message across. They should be
finding ways to encourage Tee It Forward in places that people other
than serious golfers would see it.
- The publicity should include TV spots where golfers
are likely to see them. Tournament coverage. Golf Channel programming.
- The publicity should include respected golfers
pointing out that this is
the way to play the course as it was designed.
- The publicity should make every effort to dispel
the notion -- the stigma
-- that the red tees are the "ladies' tees". (See below.)
should be encouraging their members to play their TIF tees.
instructors, the pro shop, and signage in the clubhouse should urge
them to try it.
- Some of the events and competitions should "level
the field" using tee choices instead of handicaps. I have been in a few
match-play contests where this worked very well. It became a test of
skill, with power removed from consideration. This is distinct from
handicap, where the determining factor is not skill, but rather how
well you play compared with your usual performance.
- The golf courses should... Well, I'll hold that for
section. But the golf courses are not helping matters.
Entirely too much of the reluctance of
male golfers to tee it forward is ego. It involves making uncomfortable
admissions and discarding long-held assumptions.
These constitute an emotional combination that is hard to overcome.
- I had
enough trouble just getting my golf buddies to play the "senior tees"
(gold tees at most courses in my area). They didn't want to admit that
their game was limited due to their growing older. That's a reality,
but one few of us are anxious to face.
- Almost every male golfer
I know grew up in golf thinking of the red tees as the "ladies' tees".
In order for them to enjoy golf from the red tees, they need to shake
this assumption. Even more important is the social assumption; they
don't want other golfers, who still hold the "ladies' tees" assumption,
to apply the label to
The assumption is perpetuated and reinforced by lots of golf courses
that only rate the red tees (course rating and slope) for women. I'll
have more to say on that point later.
you ask most male golfers how far they drive the ball, they will give
you an overestimate. And usually it's one they believe. They remember
that one huge drive they hit last August, and think of that as their
driving distance. If you use that philosophy, the TIF tables will tell
you to play a longer course than you should be playing.
There may well be golfers who have heard of Tee It Forward and
would like to try it, but the courses they play don't have an
appropriate set of tees. For examples of this, let's look at the
Monmouth County Parks courses, the courses I play the most, considered
against my recommended Tee It
Forward distance of 5000-5200 yards.
Springs - North
Springs - South
Only two courses, the "new" courses at Charleston Springs (post-1990)
have any tees at all short enough to match my distance. The other
courses are 350-600 yards longer. And I am hardly the shortest hitter
on these courses. Of the 10 regulars in my golf group (in our late
sixties to late seventies), only two drive the ball longer than I do.
So all but those two should be playing a course not much over 5000
yards. But fewer than half of them join me at the red tees on any of
Let's get back to what the golf courses can do to improve the
opportunity to tee it forward:
and announce Tee It Forward. But it isn't clear this overcomes either the
ignorance nor the ego problems. Shark River has a Tee It Forward
sign on the rest room door, where everybody goes at least once per
visit to the course. But Shark River has also been a place where I
encounter golfers who claim to never have heard of Tee It Forward. So
the publicity needs to be better. So far, their publicity has only been
lip service. In order
to go beyond lip service, the course must...
- Provide Tee It
Forward tees for their expected clientele. If they get any traffic
from, for instance, aging golfers who hit the ball 150yards, they
should have a set of 3500-3700 yard tees. If they expect women who are
the wives of the regulars, and who hit it 125 yards at best, they need
a set of 2800-3000 yard tees. Similarly, if they expect to host a
women's league. I just don't see this happening. Not at all!
tees, even the shortest tees, for both men
and women. This can be surprisingly important. One of my regular golf
friends drives the ball 170 yards, and would love to play
his TIF tees. But his higher priority is maintaining a USGA handicap,
in order to play in events that require an official handicap. The
handicap system requires course rating and slope to be different for
women and men. In order
to keep a handicap, he has to play tees rated for men. Too many
courses, including my county's public courses, rate the red tees only
for women -- and the other tees only for men. Here's a typical excerpt
from one of their scorecards. Look at the progression of course rating;
it is high (74.2) for the blue tees, and is progressively lower (that
is, easier) for the whites and golds. That makes sense. But now look at
the red tees; the rating has jumped up again, to 74.0. The only way it
makes sense is if the reds are being rated for women, and women only.
If you ask in the clubhouse, they will tell you that is exactly what is
The county has started with both-gender ratings, but
they are taking it in the wrong direction for Tee It Forward. Here is
the corresponding snippet from one of the courses where they are doing this. (Ignore
the fact that the gold and white tees are inverted from their usual
sense.) Only the white tees (generally considered the "senior tees" at
this course) are rated for both genders. That is, they support "tee it
back" for longer-hitting women, but still do nothing to encourage "tee
Here are a few more reasons I have heard from people I have played
with, people whose distance indicates they should be playing from tees
more forward than they do.
- "I want to play the course as it was designed." They
think that by playing from the full-length tees, they are playing the
course as the architect intended. Nothing could be further from the
truth, as we shall cover in the next section.
- "I don't like thinking; I just want to hit the ball."
They don't say this in so many words, but it is clear that two of my
regulars feel this way. In fact, one of them tried the red tees just
once and turned in a pretty bad score. He just hit driver on every
hole, and hit the ball into the dangers the architect built into the
design. (The next section will cover examples.) Nothing good came of
that strategy -- or, more accurately, lack of strategy. Different
people play golf for different reasons; if your reason is to hit the
ball as far as you can and then do it again, Tee It Forward is probably
not for you.
your way around the course
holes, the difference in tees is just distance; it means that I stand a
chance to have an iron approach for a green in regulation. But for some
holes, it's also a change in strategy. It is no longer just, "Pull out the
driver, grip it 'n' rip it!" On those holes, I have to think about my
tee shot. And
that thinking is often the same thinking I did when playing the white
tees in my early sixties. Here are a few examples from courses I played
then and still play. For each of the cases, I'll discuss:
These three cases will be referred to as [a], [b], and [c] in the examples below.
- How I played the tee shot from the white tees in my
early sixties, when I could drive it 250.
- How I play the tee shot from the white tees today --
often even the gold tees. I now drive it 190.
- How I play the tee shot from the Tee It Forward tees
today. TIF happens to be the red tees for most of the courses in the examples.
River, 5th hole
This one is obvious and classic; you don't
want your drive in the cross hazard.
The hole is a short par-4. If I hit a good drive, even from the white tees
today, I might have an iron for an approach. I have shown the location
of the white and red tee boxes. But there is a water hazard, a ditch
about 6 feet wide represented by the blue line. It is about
yards from the red tees and a little over 200 yards from the whites.
the [a], [b], [c] of how to play the hole:
Note that I'm playing the hole very much as I did 15 years ago. I'm
playing it as the architect intended.
can drive it 250, but from the whites it's only 210-220 to the hazard.
Better take a
shorter club and lay up, because a less-than-solid driver strike would
carry the ditch. I usually used a 7-wood or 3-iron. If I did it well,
a PW or SW to the green.
- Grip it 'n' rip it! Can't reach the ditch.
- A drive of 190yd will be wet. Throttle back to
a 4-hybrid or 5-iron.
Springs South Course, 13th hole
Here is a similar concept, but with a
strategic choice. It is a par-5 around a lake. From short of the lake,
it is a three-shot hole. But it might be reachable if you can drive it
in the narrower neck to the left of the lake.
can drive it 250, but that will run out of fairway if it is to the
right, or even in the middle. And "run out of fairway" means tall grass
or the lake. To get close enough to go for the green
on this par-5, I have to drive it into the narrower neck of fairway on
the left. Risk-reward! And if I don't want the risk, I can use less
club and put it anywhere in the fairway (#2 arrows). But that means at
shots to the green.
- Grip it 'n' rip it! Can't run out of fairway.
choices as [a]. If I hit a solid drive middle or right, it will be in
the high grass or even the lake. If I'm not hitting my driver
straight today, straight enough to risk the neck on the left, I should
back off a club or two. Feels like 15 years
Springs South Course, 2nd hole
Another type of risk-reward, where the risky shot not only has to be
straight, but far enough to carry a bunker.
I hit my driver down the middle of the fairway I see from the tee, it
will run through the fairway and very possibly into the lake. I can
either throttle back to a shorter club down the middle, or I can take
on that big (and intimidating from the tee) fairway bunker and put my
longer and lefter in the fairway. Is there a reward for that risk? You
bet! First of all, it's several clubs closer -- PW or SW vs 7-iron.
Just as important, I don't have to take on the lake for my second shot,
unless the hole is cut on the right side of the green; and even then
there is a lot less water intervening. The risk? If you are short and
in the bunker, you probably don't want to go for the green -- and risk
the lake if you miss. And, of course, your drive might miss
right (that was my miss 15 years ago) and wind up in the lake anyway.
- Grip it 'n' rip it! Can't reach the lake.
two choices as [a]. But now there's even more reward if you make it.
That's because the driver isn't my only club where I've lost distance;
the #2 strategy leaves a long iron or hybrid over water for the second
shot. Unless I'm very confident that day, I'll lay up short left of the
green (dotted red arrow), turning this relatively short par-4 into a
Park, 11th hole
Park, more than the other courses I play regularly, reminds me how much
distance I have lost. It has several holes that are sharp doglegs, and
on several I can no longer count on driving the ball far enough from
the white tees so I can even see the green. But the hole that reminds
me the most sharply is the eleventh. It is a par-5 with a pair of traps
at the dogleg, one on either side.
I hit a good drive -- or even a good 3-wood -- I should be able to
clear the right-hand bunker and be out in the fairway in the position
labeled '1'. If my driving was unreliable that day (it's the
eleventh hole; I should know by then), I could back off to a lofted
fairway wood (5- or 7-wood) and aim at the left bunker. I couldn't
reach the left bunker with that club, and would wind up at position
'2'. Why would I risk the bunker? If you look at the aqua centerline
towards the hole, you'll see that going over or right of the bunker is
worth a lot more yards than just the difference in drive distance. I
got my first eagle here, with a big fade (my shot shape then) over the
side of the bunker; I hit a 5-wood onto the green, and made
- Grip it 'n' rip it -- towards the left bunker.
can't reach it. And I can't fly the right
bunker any more, even from the gold tees.
- I have to decide
whether my driving is good enough to challenge the right bunker. If so,
go for it, position #1. If not, back off to a 3-hybrid to position #2.
If I hit driver toward the left bunker (accidentally or intentionally),
I will be
in the bunker (or worse, the trees beyond the bunker).
The decision is exactly the same as it was fifteen years ago.
Springs North Course, 6th hole
A much more complex strategy than most holes, but it was designed to be
a strategic hole.
is a relatively short par-4 with a split fairway, a wide and elevated
right fairway and a narrower left fairway. The fairways are separated
by a ridge and deep pot bunkers in the slope between the fairways. The
bunkers between the fairways will cost almost a full stroke; it is hard
to advance the ball very far from them. The approach shot from the
right fairway is over greenfront bunkers; from the left fairway, you
can run your approach up to the green.
did not have much confidence in the exact direction of my 250-yard
drives; my miss was a slice and I could not draw a drive at all. So my
only choice from the whites was the wider upper (right) fairway. I
would aim just left of the target bunker and try to hit it straight. A slight
pull or fade was not bad, but a big slice could go across the cart path into
the tall rough. If I was missing too badly with my driver, I could hit
a 3- or 5-wood on the same line but shorter (position #2). My iron shots back then
were long enough
that I could still keep it on the green from a little farther back.
it 'n' rip it at the right (upper) fairway. That's the best I could do,
and I'd need a long iron or hybrid for the second shot.
- Lots of strategic choices from the TIF (red)
tees. Let's consider them by number in the diagram:
- Aim the driver at the target bunker, just as
I did 15 years ago. Works if it goes at position #1, which it usually
I'm hitting my driver unusually long, it might find the bunker --
that's a close thing. So I could back off to a shorter club and go for
position #2. The shorter club would also be better if my drives are
"directionally challenged" that day; it's a wide fairway at that point.
A shorter tee shot means a longer second shot (the dotted yellow
arrow). The direction from the upper fairway takes me over the right
front bunker to a green that is shallower than it is narrow. You really
want a shorter iron, but strategy #2 leaves me with a long iron or
hybrid which will usually wind up in the front right bunker or over the
- If my reason for considering strategy #2 is
that I am
hitting big, reliable drives, I might think about starting it at the
target bunker and drawing it back to the fairway. Some days I'm hitting
the driver well enough to get
away with this, and it makes the second shot much easier. The only ways
this goes wrong is if the draw is a quicker hook (into the pot
bunkers), or not only straight but long enough to find the target
- Here's a completely different strategy -- go
lower (left) fairway. I couldn't ever do it with a driver from
white tees; from that angle, it required a draw and my shot shape was a
fade. But it works much better from the red tees; the angle is
different -- straight down the left fairway -- and I'm close enough to
target to use a more accurate hybrid. The reward is a second shot (the
dotted green arrow) that
doesn't have to carry any bunkers at the green, just be straight enough
to be within
the confines of the green. That means a longer club works, as long as I
can control the direction.
Terrace, 2nd hole
Let's finish with one where tee choice isn't even an issue -- but
is. In fact, it's the sort of situation the TV color commentators are
always pointing out. The landing area for a driver is much tighter than
a shorter tee shot would face, so the smart pros often take less club
off the tee to make sure they have a clear second shot from the fairway.
Colonial Terrace is my town's muni, and is only 5000 yards from the
white tees -- so let's just look at it from the whites.
second hole, a longish par-four, is the #1 handicap hole on the course. The thing that makes
it hard is a stand of big trees on the right, starting 210 yards from
tee and continuing for about 60 yards.
If I hit driver from the tee
(the white #1 arrow), I am most likely to be at the right edge of the
fairway. That means my second shot is through the trees -- or
more likely a pitch-out to the fairway 100yd from the green. (And many
golfers hit driver even further right; this is not a highly-skilled
golf population, and slicers are common here.)
So why not just aim a
little left, at the middle of the fairway? That strategy is dangerous.
Even a small
pull goes into the woods on the left, and you won't find it. (Please
don't ask how I know.)
there is an alternative. If I hit a hybrid on the same initial
line (the red #2 arrow), it stops well short of the trees and I have a
clear shot to the green. And, since my most solid hybrid shots have a
little draw, I might even be in the middle of the fairway (red #3
I have plenty of other examples, but this should give you an idea of
you have to think. And, if your reason for teeing it forward is losing
distance to age, you are likely to be playing and thinking as
did when you were younger.
Details about the tables
Here are a couple of considerations that won't be interesting to a
mathophobe. But for you techies out there...
Take a good look at the graph form of the Tee It
Forward chart that was presented at the top of this article. If you
look closely, you'll see that it is not linear, not a straight line.
It's not even a simple convex or concave curve; it has several
inflection points, and goes concave to convex to concave again.
Let's look at that shape in a little more detail. In the graph at the
right, the blue curve is the middle of the TIF range for each driving
distance. It is the shape of the TIF prescription. The red curve is a
straight line with the same endpoints as the blue curve. A few features
I have no idea of the reasoning for this shape of curve. I would have
expected a linear recommendation, but that is on the basis of
intuition, not solid analysis. It would be very interesting to know the
reasoning. I would hope for some transparency on the part of the PGA
and USGA who are recommending Teeing It Forward. So far, I have not
seen any, but I have not tried digging yet. If I find out the reason, I
will edit this article to include it.
- For low driving distances, the two curves are the
same. Not just the same value, but just about the same slope.
- For the middle population of golfers who drive the
ball between 160 and 260 yards, the chart recommends a course length
significantly longer (by as much as 500 yards in the middle of the
range) than a linear recommendation.
- For high driving distance, the curves come together
again, though they do not seem to merge asymptotically. (I told you
this section is not for mathophobes.)
I have seen perhaps half a dozen formulas and charts to select the
proper tees. Let's look at a few alternate formulas for teeing it forward.
We'll start with a very simple formula that I see so often on the internet it is hard to attribute the proper source:
length = 36 * 5-iron carry distance.
I did a quick sanity test of this formula. My 5-iron is my 150-yard
club, of which the first 140 yards are carry. When I plug 140 yards
into this equation, I get a recommendation of 5040 yards for the
18-hole course. That is
remarkably consistent with the PGA/USGA chart; 5040 is
between 5000 and 5200, the recommended yardage range for my driving
is a slightly more exhaustive test than the brief sanity test based on
my own yardages. I initially suspected this recommendation and the USGA/PGA chart would
not be far apart,
but I have changed my mind. Remember that this formula, unlike the TIF
chart, is a linear relationship. In fact, it is proportional. We can
easily graph this if we assume most
golfers have the same ratio of driver distance to 5-iron carry
distance that I do (190 to 140, or 1.36). Here is the previous graph,
with an additional curve
-- the proportional line that matches the TIF curve at 190 yards
driving distance. It is a direct proxy for the alternate formula.
Notice how the recommendations diverge at longer and shorter
driving distances. The difference between the curves at the extremes is
almost 500 yards.
My personal favorite way to get the proper course yardage comes from Paige MacKenzie, in a video from The Golf Channel show, "Drive Time".
length = (14 * drive distance) + (18 * 7-iron distance)
This accounts for both your driving distance and your approach shots.
You can fault it for being oversimplified, but it seems to give
remarkably practical results. In fact:
So the formula seems to work very well.
- If I plug in my current drive and 7-iron, I get my "official" Tee It Forward distance.
- If I plug in the distances I hit the ball when I was in my
early 60s, I get a total course distance that was what I tried to play
back then. That distance let me score well when I played well, which is of course the best measure of your proper tees.
Here's one from Rick McKinney, a custom clubfitter and clubmaker.
length = 28 * driver total distance.
When I plug my own numbers in, I get a course yardage that is longer
than the other charts recommend, both currently and what used to hit in
my early 60s. It is too long for me, but not by nearly as much as even
the red tees at some courses I play. How do I know it is too long?
Because I should be able to reach most par-4s with a good drive and an
iron after that. At 5320 yards, I can probably reach most par-4s, but
I'd have to use a hybrid or fairway wood for my approach on most of
Finally, there is one that goes through your
distance with every club in the bag, and matches it to the distances
for every hole on the course. (So every course might have its own
proper distance for you.) This is way too much effort, and likely even
too complicated. It may be very accurate, but is totally impractical.
I have found playing from the Tee It Forward tees rewarding,
challenging, and fun. The challenge and the fun come from having to
play the golf course instead of just trying to hit the ball farther
than I am capable of. But very few golfers, especially male golfers,
are accepting this challenge and being rewarded with the fun.
Here is a
summary and emphasis of the recommendations in the article, the things
that golf --
especially the governing bodies and the courses -- should be doing to
encourage more golfers to tee it forward.
- The entire golf industry must, first and foremost, dispel
the stigma associated with shorter tees, specifically:
Without removing the stigma, any other efforts will be
- They are
not the "ladies' tees".
- They are
the way to play the course as the architect
- The PGA, USGA, and other stakeholders should be
finding ways to encourage Tee It Forward in places that
less-than-serious golfers would see it, like TV spots in golf
- Golf courses must
provide tees of appropriate distance for
all the golfers who play there. This is sadly lacking today!
- Golf courses should rate even the more forward tees for both men and women
golfers, so anybody can report their score for handicapping.
should be encouraging their members to play their TIF tees.
instructors, the pro shop, and signage in the clubhouse should urge
them to try it.
of the events and competitions should "level the field" using tee
choices instead of handicaps.
Last modified 2/4/2023