Black, blue, white, green, gold--nearly every golf course offers a choice of tee boxes meant to make the game enjoyable for every player. Unfortunately, testosterone determines the tee box most players choose.
Instead of playing a course length appropriate to their physical ability and skill level—one where they can play every club in their bag, face the widest variety of challenging approach shots, and get the greatest amount of satisfaction from the game—they insist on hitting from the back tees. No girly men here!
Ask them why, and they’ll say something like “I want to see all the course.” It’s a stupid observation, but one unfortunately true in a way they don’t realize. Because they’re trying to hit their tee shot farther (consciously or not), they’re much more likely to drive the ball off-line, greatly increasing the chances of seeing the rough, the trees, the lakes, the next fairway, and the patio beyond the out-of-bound stakes. Sure makes the game fun.
Even when they somehow make the fairway, these “bombers” are usually well back from the position where the course designer intended the second shot on the hole to be played. Most courses are designed for a 250-yard drive, which is what the USGA expects the scratch player to hit. The machismo mafia may think they drive the ball 280 or even 300 like the pros, but I guarantee they hit the vast majority of their tee shots 235 or less on a good day. Once a month it goes 260; once a season 280. We all remember those bombs; unfortunately the reason we remember them so well is that they are the exception to the rule.
So, in those rare instances where it lands in the fairway, where does that 235-yard drive leave you for your second shot? Playing a hybrid or a fairway wood of (heaven forbid) a long iron into a green meant to be approached with a mid- or short-iron. And it’s a long way, so you swing harder, just like you did off the tee.
If the only time you hit a short iron is for your third shot on a par four, you’re playing from the wrong tees.
You should be guided to the correct tees by your handicap. Most courses recommend about a 10 or less play from the blues. Anything higher should go from the whites. Only a true scratch golfer should even think about playing the tips.
Another way is to analyze the scorecard in relation to your game. If your (honestly-measured) average drive goes 235, subtract that from the yardage of the par fours on the course. If you’re left with over honest five-iron distance on more than a third of the par fours, you probably should be swinging from the whites.
Playing the right tees isn’t about shooting a lower score, by the way. It’s about getting the most enjoyment from your game. It takes a lot more skill to execute a wide variety of second shots than it does to bomb one off the tee and into the woods.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo