This is the fifth in a series, a back nine of thoughts cultivated from a recent fall golf trip to the Pinehurst and Southern Pines areas of North Carolina. What started as bullet points grew into substantial realizations. I hope you enjoy reading them.
Moving up a tee box (or two) remains the easiest and quickest way to lower your average score and enjoy the game of golf more. It’s that simple. This is true for all golfers, across all skill levels, and all evidence to the contrary is anecdotal, specious, and fallacious.
The more interesting and diverse the ground on which the golf course rests, the more important how far one hits the ball, and, specifically, how far the ball travels in the air, becomes when deciding from what distance to play. The demands a player’s ability to drive the ball at the Old Course at St. Andrews, where the ground is essentially flat with small, interesting undulations, is substantially less important than at a place like North Carolina’s Tobacco Road, a course that puts the “hills” in the Sandhills of North Carolina.
Fred, the occasional co-host on the Blind Shots Podcast, is our group’s shortest hitter. He is a wedge game wizard, but he struggles to generate tons of power off the tee, putting pressure on the rest of his game at a place like Tobacco Road. He didn’t want to move up a tee box, but his playing partners, Mark and Matt, decided they were going to play forward one tee box from our normal game, and Fred isn’t one to be disagreeable or stand out in the crowd on purpose.
When asked afterwards about the experience of playing the course from 5,900 yards instead of 6,300 yards, Fred said, “It was night and day. I really appreciated not having to hit 7-woods and 3-woods into those treacherous greens all day. It was probably my most enjoyable round at Tobacco Road.”
He confessed that the toll of hitting woods and long irons into par four greens over the course of an entire round often grinds on him, especially at a course like Tobacco Road. By moving up, “I got to hit normal shots, got to hit 8-irons and clubs I can hit closer to the hole. I’m glad I moved up. My score was a little better and I had a lot more fun.”
Our other guest-host, Matt, who is a big hitter with his driver, remarked that moving up a tee box at Tobacco Road meant that he didn’t have to put max effort into his drives, which made the experience utterly enjoyable. “There’s so much visual intimidation there that it was still plenty difficult and plenty entertaining. It didn’t take eight strokes off of our games. It was still a challenging round, just a little less stressful.”
The truth of Matt’s final point, that playing up to just a slightly shorter overall yardage still presents interesting challenges yet in a less stressful manner, is the hallmark of a well-designed golf course. Moving up from one set of tees to a shorter set doesn’t magically make a good golf course boring or easy; it makes the challenges less stressful and more enjoyable.
Courses are designed with sets of tees designed to be played by players that hit the ball a certain distance off of the tee. There are a host of “rule of thumb” guides to determine what tees someone should be playing from on a particular golf course. Each are generally helpful, yet specifically limited, in their usefulness. Some guidance suggests a minimum handicap index for each tee box, starting at the longest set of tees. Other systems suggest a tee box selection based on the average distance of a player’s well struck drive.
Finding the appropriate tee box that matches a golfer’s skill level is an integral part of enjoying golf. Allowing ego and pride to guide tee selection leads to playing too long of a golf course in most cases. Such selections inevitably lead to higher scores, longer duration of rounds, and loss of enjoyment, as compared to playing the game from a couple hundred yards shorter.
So if the goal is to enjoy playing golf more immediately, before there’s time for lessons and practice and bespoke equipment, then move up a tee box, or two. It’s golf’s magic move.