Move up! Move up! Nothing to see back here

That’s my inner course marshal telling me to find another tee deck better suited to my abilities.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was younger and someone suggested we play the back tees, I was ok with it. Of course, the tips back then were only 6,500 or 6,600 yards.

Then new courses came along that stretched to 6,800; then over 7,000 and now I see courses where the “pro” yardage tops out around 7,500. That usually means at least two and sometimes three tee decks that I have no business being on and just have to walk by.

Black tees, gold tees, pewter tees, jade tees, copper tees. If they keep stretching golf courses they may run out of colours before they run out of real estate.

They say one of the reasons people play golf is because they can play the same game as the pros. Well, you could have fooled me. I don’t see a lot of folks smashing the ball over 300 yards, nuking 200-yard 7-irons and breaking par.

I’ve been a single digit handicap all my adult life and have never hit a 300-yard drive. If I did, it was a fluke and probably hit a cart path and at least two sprinkler heads on the way. I just never had that kind of power. In my prime I could drive the ball 240-250 but lately, my best drives top out around 225. I’m ok with that but it doesn’t work anymore from the tee decks I’ve been used to.

So what are the correct tees? There used to be a common misconception that if the pros played the back tees and hit the ball to the 150-yard marker, then you just moved up to a tee deck where you too could hit the ball to the 150-yard marker. But as we all know that’s not the same. From that point the pro is likely going to use a pitching wedge or gap wedge, whereas most mortals will require at least an 8-iron and often more. So, the real tee deck you need to play is one where you can hit your drive to the same point where you too can use a wedge – probably around 110-120 yards. For me that translates into a 225-yard drive and 120-yard pitching wedge or a total of 345 yards.

Now I still think of that as a pretty short hole, but it’s comparable to the game the pros play. Obviously some holes will be longer but the formula works for par 3s and par 5s too. If you extrapolate that out over 18 holes, it works out to a total distance of about 6,000 yards for me. For others it will be longer and some may need less real estate.

Another  way to find your correct yardage is to take the distance you hit your 5-iron and multiply it by 36. I hit mine 165-170 yards which works out to 5,940-6,120 – again right around 6,000 yards.

Some may scoff and say that’s ridiculously short. But think about it. We’re not as consistent as the pros – we’re still going to miss some fairways and we’re not going to nail every approach or make every putt. And let’s be honest here too. How far do we really hit the ball? Industry statistics suggest not as far as we think.

By shortening the course, we give ourselves a better chance of at least reaching most holes in regulation and maybe making a few birdies. Courses can do their part in helping here too. Instead of adding tee decks and new colours behind us, why not put in more shorter tee decks, especially for women and children who often only have one forward option. They need more colours too.

Will we view it as cheating somehow if we don’t play from 500 or 1,000 yards back? Will someone question our masculinity? Maybe, but will we be unhappy if we’re able to shave 30 minutes off our time or half a dozen strokes off our score? Will we be disappointed if we have more fun?

For many men, our egos have been the real reason we haven’t played better golf. Our buddies say something brilliant like, “Let’s play the golds today,” and we blindly follow suit. Or even worse, some yahoo in the group announces he wants to get his money’s worth as he heads to the tips. Years of that kind of behaviour has cemented a stigma about moving forward.

I don’t know about you but if I’m ever going to shoot my age – and I’m getting close to that window where my score and age could possibly intersect – I’m not going to kick myself if I do it from 5,800 yards instead of 6,800.

Obviously, this is not a prescription for everyone. If you can bomb it 300 yards and carry tall buildings with a single swipe, then play the damn jade tees if they make you happy. But if you’re hitting hybrids into most par fours, then for goodness’ sake, do yourself a favour and move up.

Peter Mumford
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. He's played over 500 different courses in 21 countries and met some fascinating people along the way. He's also a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

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