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Tee It Forward

Tee It Forward Initiative

I first heard of this initiative on the Sirius/XM PGA Tour Network shows Fairways of Life with Matt Adams and Teed Off with Brian Katrek.  In their respective shows, Matt and Brian each invited callers to comment on the concept – Tee It Forward.  Then, a couple of days ago I stumbled on a GolfWorld.com article addressing the initiative as well and thought I would put some brain cells on it myself.

Essentially, the concept is that the majority of golfers out there should move forward one set of tee markers to “boost fun and speed up play” during 5-17 July 2011 (Golfworld.com/The Game July 4 2011).

I think the desired effect is to bring awareness to leisure golfers that golf courses designed for championship play are not necessarily suited (from the back tees) for the games of the average golfer.  As reported by GolfWorld.com, an article in Golf Digest attributes the idea to Barney Adams (Adams Golf).  Mr. Adams calculates “that the amateur who drives the ball 200 to 230 yards should be playing courses measuring about 6000 yards.”  Essentially, this is an effort to encourage average golfers to play the course from a tee that best suits their game.  In theory, this will make the game more fun for them and speed up play.  I think it is a great idea, but how to implement it and see that it has lasting effects?

Tee It Forward –Implementation

Golf is a game that has been in a bit of a down swing (so to speak), with the economy such as it is and the expense of playing (golf is generally not a cheap sport), the rising tide of new joins to the game from the “Tiger Era” has been ebbing.  The following link will take you to an interview of Brian Katrek regarding Tiger pre-Masters, but what is important in the interview by Fox Business News is the commentary by Brian on the current state of golf – http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/4627876/brian-katrek-tigers-not-ready-to-retire-/.  This is excellent commentary and clear and understandable reasoning – thanks Brian.

Jack Nicklaus and others think that perhaps 18 holes is too many for the masses and that there should be an intermediate number available – say 12 that one could purchase to play – not too much and not too little for those who don’t have 4.5 to 5.5 hours to burn.  I have heard discussion on the PGA Tour Network regarding the need to get more women involved in the sport, make the sport more “female friendly.”  Now, Tee It Forward comes to the fore as an initiative to make golf “more fun” for the masses (and potentially provide for more through-put on the courses positively affecting revenue?)

How does one get traction on an initiative like this so that its positive effects last?  GolfWorld posits three areas of refinement to the existing plan (which seems somewhat voluntary and without a lot of marketing):

  1. Somehow change mistaken mindsets that shifting to forward tees for players within a group takes more time and slows play.  As they put it, gain “permission to play shorter tees.”
  2. Create and “include a chart correlating 10 driver distances to a similar number of recommended 18 hole yardages.”  That is, I suppose, if you hit a driver 200 yards you should play an 18 hole length of 6000 yards, 220 yards is 6300 yards, etc…Perhaps even a “professional assessment” provided by a course pro with a range of clubs.
  3. Finally, charge differently by tee marker…the shorter, the less you pay.  (This has the most promise in my view.)

Tee It Forward – More Ideas

We already have a handicapping system.  Why can’t courses check handicaps?  Limit play on select back tees to certain handicap levels – always, sometimes, whatever….  If you don’t have a handicap, it is likely an indication that you aren’t necessarily a serious golfer and that perhaps you should be on one of the forward tees.  The course at Camp LeJeune, NC has two 18 hole tracks – the scarlet and the gold.  The gold is the championship course and the scarlet is a bit shorter, but both are equally playable and enjoyable.  The rule there used to be anyway that during certain hours on Saturday and Sunday, you (and your group) must have established handicaps to make a tee time on the gold.  Everyone else plays the scarlet.  Now, I realize that there aren’t many courses out there with multiple tracks, but the idea can be implemented as part of the tee it forward program.  Rather than restricting the golf course, restrict the tees so that non-handicap holders play to the forward tees during the busiest weekend hours.

Also, maybe we should standardize tee colors as well.  I venture that a lot of players see white tees and use them.  White is somewhat universal for ‘average player tees,’ but the difficulty is not all courses use the same colors.   I think it somewhat universal that ladies tees are red, senior tees gold, forward men’s tees white, and then you have one or two sets back beyond that – normally blue next, then black championship tees.  What’s wrong with establishing a standard in the industry?  Even if you have something cute as tee markers – cannons or rocks or garden gnomes – they can have the standard color motif can’t they?

Finally, change where you set the tees.  Move the ‘standard’ white ones up permanently from where they have been historically if the yardage at the old place was too long by Mr. Adam’s standard.  It may cost a little to recalculate slope and rating and publish the new yardage on the score sheets, but If it achieves the desired result, it would be well worth it.

Tee It Forward – Bottom Line

There are probably a myriad of ways to implement, but there will still be those who want to play the full course no matter their skill level.  In the end the customer is right, right?  Well, maybe on a municipal course or even a resort course, but I venture a country club can do what it wants provided the constituency allows.

I think the effort has merit, but it will require a multi-faceted approach.  First, standardize tee colors to eliminate confusion – I mean establish an industry standard.  Next, just move a set forward of where they are now (white ones) to better fit the 6000-6300 yard model.  Then, communicate with your customers.  Illustrate why it makes sense with charts that show with common sense language why it will be more fun to change – it has to be direct, simple and to the point.  And finally, there must be monetary incentive to change.  If you simply charge more for each tee back from the white, then you punish good players.  Perhaps you can charge more unless you have an established handicap that is below a certain threshold that allows you to pay the same as those on the white. People who do not belong on the back tees should pay more… I think that is the point.  But, make no mistake, managing price by tee will create the quickest change.