My favorite chapter in the new book, Playing Through Your Golden Years: A Senior’s Golfing Guide, co-authored by me and fellow senior-golf blogger Brad Chambers, is the one called “The Right Tees – for You.” No, it isn’t about wood vs plastic, or Martini tee vs. regular. This is about tee boxes and following our straightforward guidance could change your enjoyment level dramatically.
I don’t find it helpful to compare my mundane golf game to those of professionals; the pros live on a different planet when it comes to golf. But their game provides concrete evidence to many of us that we are playing from the wrong tee boxes – in some cases, for too many years. Here’s why, and it is pretty simple.
They drive the ball 100+ yards farther than most senior golfers do. For them, a typical 460-yard par 4 leaves them with less than 160 yards to the green, a typical 8-iron shot for them. I am a 10-handicapper and hit the ball a maximum of 210 yards off the tee. A 460-yard hole is a par 5 for me. A 360-yard hole with a good drive leaves me a 5-hybrid shot to the green; extend that hole to 400 yards, as is the case from a fair number of holes from typical “men’s” tees, and I have to pull out the fairway metal.
“Where’s the fun in that?” asks former PGA Tour player Ken Green in our new book. “I still want to shoot under par, so I go to the tee where I can shoot a few under par. Why would you want to beat yourself up playing tees where you can’t even come close to shooting what you used to shoot?”
For the last few weeks, I have been having a lot of “fun” playing from the white (Egret) tees – total yardage 5,570 – at the challenging Jack Nicklaus designed Pawleys Plantation club in Pawleys Island, SC. Loaded with sand and water and pin positions tucked behind bunkers, Pawleys may have one of the biggest spreads anywhere between course rating and slope rating. From the white tees, the course rating is a modest 69.1 but the slope is 130, a fairly hefty number and reflective of how difficult the course plays for a player with an 18 handicap (i.e. a bogey player). When the wind blows, which it often does on a course less than a mile from the ocean, you can add 20% to those numbers.
I have had a few good rounds the last three weeks playing the Egret tees at Pawleys, but I also barely broke 90 on a couple of occasions. And even during the good rounds, my 8-irons into par 4 greens were few and far between; I played just as many hybrids and fairway metals into the par 4s. Therefore, for kicks, I decided to move up another set of tees at Pawleys, to what they call the “Yellow Finch” tees at an overly modest 4,985 yards. I played just the front nine, the tougher of the nines at Pawleys; the experiment was revealing.
First of all, shortening some of the holes did not remove the degree of difficulty on half the holes. Right off the back, I found the drive on the par 5 #1, only 395 from the Finch tees, to be awkward in the extreme. The tee was tucked on the far right side, even with the right edge of the fairway and forced a play straight at the woods on the left; I tried to fade my drive but hit it straight and was lucky to have a play from the rough just short of the trees.
The shorter tees on the next three holes made for easier approaches. The #2 hole is the #1 handicap hole, a brutishly long par 4 from the back tees with a severe falloff left of the fairway that can pull a hooked tee ball into the woods; but from the Yellow Finch tees, it was a pussycat -- comparatively. (The green is still difficult, tilted from back to front.) The tee box on #3 shortened the hole by 18 yards compared with the Egret tees and provided an angle from 126 yards that took the large pond and bunkers out of play. On #4, a shortish par 5 to begin with, the 408 yards from the Finch tees made going for the front pin position a possibility after a good drive. I skulled my 5 wood from a downhill fairway drive and still had just 75 yards to the pin.
The much shorter 5th hole, a par 4 reduced from 326 (white tees) to just 279 was a head scratcher. Yes, it took out of play the tall Nicklaus tree that guards the left side of the fairway, but it brought into play the pond in front of the green, just about 200 yards from the Finch tee box. I laid up with a five wood but on the dried-out fairway the ball rolled to 10 yards from the water. Scary. The 6th hole tee box, at 49 yards beyond the yellow tees, was a big assist but still left me with a 6-iron approach into the wind. And on the short par 3 7th hole, whose narrow green runs front to back about 35 yards, the front pin position was just 99 yards from the yellow tee box. With sand directly in front of the pin, I took an extra club into the wind and wound up 50 feet beyond the pin.
The 8th hole, in my opinion, is the most difficult par 4 on the course under most conditions, including the prevailing winds that make the course more challenging than its ratings on most days. On #8, the 58-yard closer tees brought into play the huge bunker that runs from just beyond the 150 pole to the front of the wide green. The distance called for yet another layup shot with a fairway metal, in my case a 3-wood because the wind was blowing pretty hard.
From the white tees on the 9th hole (at 341 yards), you have an option of trying to hit your drive over or under the tall, sprawling live oak tree at dead center of the fairway, about 180 yards out. From the 315-yard yellow tees, the tree seemed more imposing but, hey, this was an experiment, and I decided to tee my ball up slightly and go with the driver. With a little assist from the wind – in this case into my face – the ball floated up and over the tree, but wound up just 190 yards out, leaving me 120 yards dead into the wind. I hit the green and two putted for an end-of-experiment par.
A few conclusions: The course was significantly different from 308 yards closer to the greens. On straightforward drives with open fairways, the benefits were straightforward; two to three clubs less on approach shots. Both par 5s were reachable after decent drives. But because of the placement of some of the shorter tee boxes, the angles were new to me, and a bit daunting. My final score of 42 was pretty much on average but I felt that if I had putted better, I would have broken 40 easily.
The biggest advantages to playing the shorter course were the shorter approach shots to the par 4 greens, in most cases with anywhere from the 6-iron to an 8-iron. Just like the pros. I plan to try the Yellow Finches again.
For more insights like this, especially if you are a senior golfer, consider Playing Through Your Golden Years: A Senior’s Golfing Guide, just $3.99 for the Kindle version at Amazon.com.