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Why 'Tee It Forward' Mustn't Spread Across the Atlantic

By: Nick Bonfield | Sun 15 Jan 2012

Feature from Nick Bonfield, read Nick's blog online via The Golf Debate and follow Nick on Twitter via @thegolfdebate

For those unaware, ‘Tee It Forward’ is a campaign proposed by Barney Adams - the founder of Adams Golf - that has subsequently been championed by both the PGA of America and the USGA. The idea is a simple one: the yardages of participating golf courses are adjusted based on a golfer’s length from the tee. For example, if you drive the ball 200 yards, the course length is reduced to between 5,200 and 5,400 yards. If your average drive travels 250 yards, you will play a course that is between 6,200 and 6,400 yards in length: you simply play from the appropriate tee.

Reasons for the Initiative

According to PGA of America President Allen Wronowski, “Golfers will experience an exciting, new approach to the game that will produce more enjoyment and elevate their desire to come back and play even more golf.” Putting aside, for now, the severely misguided assumption that all golfers feel the same way, other reasons for implementation include playing the course at the same relative distance as a professional and reducing slow play, whilst at the same time preserving the integrity of the game.

Referring to a generic ’professional’ does not account for any variation within the upper percentile of golfers; the reasons for the existence of slow play have been haplessly misinterpreted; ‘fun’ is a relative term that depends entirely on subjective thought, and ‘Tee It Forward’ does bring golfing integrity into disrepute. Golf is about adapting mentally to different challenges, finding a way to score well and challenging yourself in the process. Who wants to alter the yardage of a hole just because, relatively, a ‘professional’ would play his approach with more loft? By associating ‘fun’ with length of course, are we not working off the foolish assumption that driving distance is the prerequisite to low scoring and enjoyment?

Ludicrous comparison with professional golfers

Perhaps the main reason for the initiative comes with comparison to professional golfers. Firstly, I have no idea why the worlds of club and professional golf are being linked. Why should your average club golfer expect to hit an approach with a pitching wedge, just because they see Dustin Johnson hit a 350 yard drive and a 150 yard wedge to the green of a 500 yard par 4? It is nonsensical. It is almost as if we are forgetting that the gargantuan hitters represent such a miniscule part of the golfing population. Why was ‘Tee It Forward’ not suggested before the rise of the huge hitter? Unfortunately, ‘professional’, in this sense, refers to the Johnsons and the Watsons, and not the average professional golfer.

For example, take the 495-yard 14th at the TPC Boston. In round 4 of the 2011 Deutsche Bank Championship, Johnson hit a 343 yard drive to leave a wedge to the green. Chez Reavie came in with four iron, and Luke Donald with six iron. In professional golf, just as in amateur and club golf, there are enormous discrepancies between the power and capabilities of different players. I accept the situation is different for seniors, but ‘Tee It Forward’ takes away much of the advantage that someone has worked so hard to achieve, and almost renders redundant the work that a good amateur golfer has put in to be able to drive the ball a healthy distance. Given the new system, a big hitting, low handicap club golfer with a driving average of 275 yards or above (the highest bracket) could theoretically be playing off different tees to Brian Gay or Corey Pavin - PGA Tour victors – based on driving average. Everyone must surely agree that simply isn’t right.

Who will start playing based on ‘Tee it Forward’; has course length led to fewer golfers?

The initiative is also aimed at encouraging more people to play golf, and making sure pre-existing golfers continue to play. It is ridiculous to think that someone would take up golf based on ‘Tee It Forward’. Granted, hearsay and positive conversations with golfing friends would infiltrate the consciousness, but not influence someone without a pre-existing desire to play. I find it very hard to believe that anyone would stop playing the game due to issues with course length. Long golf courses are increasingly prevalent, but with such a high frequency of courses, shorter courses are incredibly easy to locate and play. Take a cross section of the golfing population: those that are members of a club, society golfers, and unattached golfers. Club members have chosen to align themselves to a certain course, so can’t have any complaints about yardage. Societies rotate, so a longer course should be viewed as a new, temporary challenge. Pay as you play golfers can chose from a huge variety of courses and find one that suits. Who, exactly, is citing course yardage as a principal reason for giving up the game?

Pace of play and etiquette

The fact of the matter is that course length, on its own, will not stop someone from playing the game, and most people in the UK wouldn’t accept the validity of a ‘better’ score based on forward tee position. And if a course is genuinely too long for you, play the yellow tees (accepted by every club and the easiest way to cater for the average golfer). This simple measure precludes the necessity for ‘Tee it Forward’. Senior tees are acceptable, but it must stop there. To me, pace of play is more of an issue than course length, and isn’t something that ‘Tee it Forward’ will combat. Many seasoned golfers playing on public courses have voiced concerns about lack of etiquette and sense of urgency leading to slow play. We must surely be concerned, should ‘Tee It Forward’ spread, about the connotations of golf being ‘more fun’. More people may see it as fun, but could this lead to a lack of respect for appropriate etiquette and, by extension, even slower golf? Do we need a fundamental change in attitude, and a more stringent adherence to keeping up with the group in front to be employed by all that play the game? Yes.


I understand the reasons behind ‘Tee It Forward’, and empathise with many senior golfers who justifiably support the initiative, but it must be stopped. It sets a dangerous precedent, makes sweeping generalisations about the thought process of the golfing public, and does damage the integrity of the game; forward tees make it easier to hit the fairway (better angle) and put those playing from the back of the tee at a disadvantage. Moving tees forward greatly aids those that can’t hit a long drive, but what help is being given to those that can’t putt? Driving distance, like putting, can be improved with application and determination. Why on earth is ‘Tee it Forward’ aiding those that have put in less effort, and impacting upon those that put in more? It is illogical, and simply must not spread across the Atlantic.



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