Until rather recently, most golf courses had no more than three sets of tees. The longest hitters and most skilled players played the tips, most men played the middle tees and ladies and junior golfers played the front tees.
Most golfers have come to agree that for the majority of courses, three sets of tees is not quite enough to serve a variably skilled clientele. So, many facilities now have four or, more commonly in my experience, five sets of tees. Nowadays, the lowest-handicap golfers slink back to the tips and a slightly larger but still small slice of mid-single-digits often play one set up, while the vast majority of golfers hang out at the middle and forward three sets.
Good enough, right? Not for some golf courses.
We Americans love to customize things. Thousands of build-your-own-burger and personal-pizza joints dot the country. Starbucks regulars’ drink orders are like snowflakes. Chances are that several of your neighbors have modified their cars in one way or another.
The proliferation of added sets of tee markers and combo sets is a way for golfers to customize their home courses. I think it might be going too far.
I recently encountered the scorecard of a private golf club with seven discrete sets of tees, plus two combo sets, for a dizzying total of nine rated tee sets.
If the old three-tee-set system marked a time of excessive restriction for some golfers, it is clear the pendulum is swinging hard the other way.
On one hand, there is a lot to like here. This course has undergone some recent renovations that have included the introduction of new forward tees. Its location in Southwest Florida makes it a safe bet that its clientele includes more than a few retirees – men and women alike. The presence of sub-5,000-yard tees is a welcome sight, period.
But there is no need for three sub-5,000-yard tees.
Likewise, are the male players at this course so sensitive to distance differences that it’s crucial that there be two sets – Tee 5 and the Tee 5/4 men’s combo – separated by just 192 yards, or barely 10 per hole?
Part of the charm of the old system was that the majority of most groups would tee off from the same spot, helping to foster the game's essential social aspects. Because no two golfers hit the ball the same distance, there will always be a spectrum when it comes to power. There is nothing wrong with this, because even though it is seemingly all anyone can talk about at the elite level these days, distance remains just one part of an infinitely intricate game that rewards many different skills.
If your opponent is a club or two longer than you, so what? Chances are you will have plenty of opportunities to even the odds on a given day with a mix of accuracy, short game and guile. This is what make the game great.
At this nine-tee golf course, however, the overabundance of options means that rather than use countless other opportunities to compete, a player who is just a club shorter than his counterpart is encouraged to opt out of a key aspect of the game.
At a certain point, the proliferation of tee boxes waters down the potential variety inherent in any group of generally similar players. This course could easily trim its complement of tee boxes to four or five and still serve its members with the right spacing.
Although done in the name of customization, stacking too many sets of tees so close together breeds confusion and discourages competition, partially defeating its own purpose.
How many sets of tees does your home course have? Let us know in the comments below!