ORLANDO, Fla. - As much as it pains my wife to read this, I've found a new trinket to add to my golf collection.
The golf tee might seem an inconsequential part of the game to you, but almost every golf course worth playing now offers custom-made tees featuring the club's name written on the shaft with the logo imprinted into the cup.
The tee isn't just a new toy for collectors like me. It's a valuable part of branding for the clubs. I've now got tees from Royal Dornoch in Scotland to Royal Melbourne in Australia and beyond.
"For us, it is a huge thing," said Scott DeLong, the PGA director of golf operations at the Aurora International Golf Club on the island of Anguilla in the Caribbean. "It's (free) advertising. Wherever you are from, we want you to take handfuls of tees to take home for other people to see them."
Many clubs are getting creative with their custom tees. Aurora International has created separate tees for its members and its guests. Pinehurst Resort has taken things next level with individual tees for not only the resort's nine courses but other facilities as well. Watch this TikTok on the "secret tees" of Pinehurst. It encourages golfers to go on a scavenger hunt to find and collect them all.
@pinehurst.resort Our most useful video to date #golf #golftok #golftiktok #golfersdoingthings #pinehurst #northcarolina ♬ Radetsky March Classic Classic(829541) - Yuumi Iida
So how did we get here? Like anything else in golf, credit (or blame) the pandemic.
A History of the Custom Logoed Tee
Benjamin Maloy, the founder and CEO of North Carolina-based Evolve Golf, has witnessed the evolution of custom tees firsthand. In 2004, his company launched the epoch tee as a durable plastic tee to replace wooden tees and the tee litter broken ones leave behind. He recalls getting his first custom tee request around 2008, but it wasn't until the post-pandemic golf boom that the custom tee business started booming.
"It was July of 2020. It just exploded," Maloy recalled at the 2023 PGA Merchandise Show. "Golf's back on. Golfers are back. Let's have fun. ... They (course managers) wanted something new (for customers)."
Evolve Golf's custom-printing operation has grown from 20 million tees to 100 million tees in recent years. It has created custom tees for more than 1,400 courses in America and another 100 internationally.
"The tee is an easy way to say hello," Maloy said. "It all starts on the tee. You peg the ball. You hit the drive. It is an easy way for a facility to bring a brand experience."
Evolve Golf invested in printing technology that has brought costs down and made unique patterns, colors and logos easier to reproduce on a mass scale.
"It's just been something where there's a different challenge each year," Maloy added. "Now we have clubs that want to do small batches. They want to have a golf tee for the grill room and for the par-3 course and all these different designs. It has become a fun technical challenge. It has sent us in customization in other directions."
Once just a tee provider, Evolve Golf now sells custom ball markers, divot tools, tee pouches and more. It has manufactured a six-inch tee as a desk decoration and custom tee games that mimic the maddening peg-jumping game most people associate with the restaurant Cracker Barrel.
Maloy said he sometimes gets special requests from collectors, too.
"I've been asked 'Can you send me a display piece?'" he shared. "The other thing is on social media, people will write: 'We are looking to get this tee or that one'. We're very aware that there's a collection issue going on right now, and it's great. I'm a hoarder, too."
Guilty as charged. In my defense, at least this collectable is free once I pay the greens fee.
Are you interested in collecting tees from your favorite golf courses? How big is your collection? Tell us in the comments below.