August 2021

The course layouts I have begun playing are more than 1,000 yards shorter than those on the PGA Tour. And, yet, the approach shots I am hitting to greens are struck with pretty much the same numbered irons the pros use. (They, of course, can hit a 7-iron over 200 yards; me, not so far.) To a golfer who can no longer drive a ball much farther than 200 yards, having 7-iron approaches is more fun than hitting metal woods off most par 4 fairways. I explore the emergence of hybrid, or combo, tees in this issue of Home On The Course and include a few samples of playable layouts with and without combo tees.

The Reserve at Lake Keowee, Sunset, SCThe Reserve at Lake Keowee, Sunset, SC


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I recently posted at my web site, Golf Community Reviews, some thoughts about combo, also called “hybrid,” tees that fill in the gaps between tee boxes on many golf courses. The difference between, say, a layout at 6,500 yards and one at 6,000 yards spread over 18 holes may not seem like much (an average 28 yards per hole), but the longer set can pose multiple 400 yard par 4s that make an iron approach impossible for many of us.  But, typically, golf courses that offer those combo tees first trim their 400-yard par 4s to make them reachable in two for those of us who can no longer drive a ball more than 200 yards. (I have joined that 200-yard-maximum group in the last couple of years.)

In the article, I referenced a few public layouts I play in Connecticut. But many of you reading this now either belong to private clubs or hope to in the coming years.  Therefore, I have looked at a few private golf community courses to see if the trend has caught on there. The answer is a mixed bag of approaches.

The Landings in Savannah, GA, features six layouts designed by Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer, Willard Byrd and Arthur Hills. Hills designed the Oak Ridge layout in 1988, and the original yardage from the back tees was a modest 6,600 yards by today’s standards.  Its course rating of 72.7 and slope of 135 are also on today’s low end of ratings from the way-back tees. Still, the layout features five par 4s over 400 yards in length, including the two opening holes. The next longest layout, at 6,200, still features five par 4s over 380 yards, making those holes reachable only with fairway metal clubs after a 200-yard drive.  Not much fun, that.

The Landings smartly developed hybrid layouts by combining tee boxes to create two additional layouts at 6,103 yards (Tournament/Club Combo) and 5,614 yards (Club/Medal Combo).  The longer layout of the two features just one 400-yard par 4 (404 yards) but softens that blow with only one par 5 over 500 yards (504).  The longest par 4 on the Club/Medal layout is 374 yards but there are a few under 325 yards, including the finishing hole at 317, down from 368 on the Tournament/Club layout.

The Landings has inserted the combo tees on all its golf courses, a smart move for a population whose average age is retired. The trend has caught on with dozens of other private golf community clubs. (See sidebar for a recap of some of them.)

In some cases, combining tee boxes is not necessary because the original designers and their patrons thought about aging and loss of distance. Twenty years ago, when he designed the course at Glenmore Country Club in Keswick, VA, John LaFoy recognized that most members of the golf community’s country club would eventually be unable to drive a ball 250 yards. He also received key input from the club’s golf professional, a former mini-tour player and daughter of the owner who commissioned LaFoy.

“She understood that not all women have the same capabilities,” LaFoy told me, “and it would be ridiculous to have just one [tee box] designated for women. [Therefore] we built five sets of tees there, which were probably not enough.” (Note: A sixth tee box has since been added.)

 At Glenmore, LaFoy designed the white tee layout (6,149 yards, course rating 70.5, slope 138) with no par 4 longer than 400 yards and only one longer than 372 yards.  That layout’s slope rating implies it is a significant challenge for a bogey golfer who should consider moving up to the yellow tees, a layout that measures 5,730 yards (68.5, 134), with only one par 4 longer than 380 yards and the next longest at just 356. The other tee boxes are black (7,003 yards, course rating 74.1, slope 146), blue (6,601, 72.5, 142), red (5,223, 66.2, 128) and green (4,061, 61.4, 114).

Hot designer Gil Hanse must have had 200-yard drives in mind when he retrofitted Pinehurst #4, whose prior architects are all hall of famers: Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones, Rees Jones and Tom Fazio. (Pinehurst offers a comprehensive, reasonably priced membership to any resident of a community adjacent to one of its nine golf courses.) The spread between the white tees (6,428 yards) and green tees (5,864) may seem a bit wide, but the latter layout features par 4s as long as 382 yet balances that with two par 4s shorter than 260 (the fairways on the latter two are ringed with sand).

One golf industry official indicated to me that he thought combo tees were a “terrible idea” because they forced most par 4s on an established layout into roughly the same 350-yard or so box. My own experience, as I have reduced my ideal layout to just below a total of 6,000 yards, is that 350-yard holes do not all look the same or demand the same strategies; they offer different challenges that might argue for different club selections. Where I find the combo tees a problem is in bringing hazards and other obstacles into play for the shorter hitter.

Example:  The 5th hole at Pawleys Plantation, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is a par 4 with a three-story tall tree along the left edge of the fairway. (In the 1980s, trees perilously close to or in the middle of fairways were a dubious Nicklaus design signature which he mostly abandoned in later years.) From the back tee boxes on #5, you face a straight shot down the fairway; pull your drive and the tree comes into play. Hit it straight and you are in great shape. But move up 20 yards to the white tee box (350 yards from the green), which is set to the left of the fairway, and the tree is directly in front of you, forcing you to either play a significant draw around it or hit a fairway metal short of the bunkers on the right edge of the fairway. Hit the fairway metal from the white tees instead of a driver, and you face a longer than necessary approach over a pond to a narrow green. The shorter tee box on that hole is a major disadvantage.

Older golf courses facing the need to add tee boxes to accommodate shorter drives must negotiate the delicate balance between keeping the integrity of the original design and providing a fun experience. 

“When I retrofit an existing course,” architect LaFoy told me, “I can usually figure out a way for most players to avoid [bunkers] if they hit a fairly decent shot.  I try to never line up a forward tee (or tees) that ladies and seniors may play where they have to hit directly at a bunker.”

And that, after all, should be the essential challenge of golf: Not to hit a perfect shot to avoid hazards, but rather a decent enough shot.  In the end, if you can only hit the ball 200 yards or so off the tee, a few extra 350-yard par 4s will make for a more enjoyable day than playing a handful of 400-yard par 4s (unless you are in love with your 3 wood) — even if a bunker you could not reach from the back tees will gobble up a poorly played shot. In that case, you deserve what you get.  Those who anticipate a loss of distance and are looking for a golf community home they expect to live in as they age would do well to study the course scorecard before they plunk down their initiation fees. 

Larry Gavrich
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC

 

Low-Mileage Hybrid Tees

The following golf courses feature tee configurations that will satisfy those of us who can no longer drive a golf ball much beyond 200 yards.  For each course, I picked the tee box most appropriate for such distances, as well as the next one farther back for those of us who can still drive for show. (Course and slope ratings in parentheses.)

 

Treyburn Country Club, Durham, NC
(Tom Fazio)

  • White tees 6,302 yards (70.0/129), 3 par 4s over 400 yards, par 5s between 460 and 514 yards
  • Green tees 5,581 yards (66.8/120), longest par 4 381 yards, shortest par 5 392 yards
  • Note: Treyburn is one of more than a dozen courses owned by the McConnell Group in the Carolinas and eastern Tennessee. Membership in one confers access to all.

 

Cypress Landing, Chocowinity, NC
(Bill Love)

  • White tees 6,062 yards (M: 69.2/127 W: 75.5/137), one par 4 over 400 yards (404), three of four par 5s over 500 yards
  • Gold tees 5,517 yards (M: 66.8/116 W: 72.3/130), longest par 4 351 yards, all four par 5s under 500 yards
  • Note: Initiation and dues for the semi-private club, located 20 minutes from the “other” Greenville, are exceedingly reasonable.

 

Reynolds Lake Oconee, Great Waters course, Greensboro, GA
(Jack Nicklaus)

  • #2 Combo tees 6,032 yards (M: 69.6/128 W: 75.2/131), one par 4 over 400 yards (400), longest par 5 477 yards.
  • #3 tees 5,794 yards (M: 68.1/125 W: 73.9/129), one par 4 at 400 yards, shortest par 5 437 yards.
  • Note:  Great Waters is one of six layouts at Reynolds. A combination of the # 3 & #4 tee boxes plays to a total of 5,485 yards.

 

Reserve at Lake Keowee, Sunset, SC
(Jack Nicklaus)

  • White tees at 6,250 yards (M: 70.8/134), one par 4 over 400 yards (423), par 5s between 487 yards and 535.
  • Gold tees at 5,805 yards (M: 67.8/126 W: 73.6/126), par 4s range from 305 yards to 383, par 5s from 394 yards to 484.
  • Note:  No women’s ratings posted from the White tees. The course slopes up and down beside its eponymous adjacent body of water.

 

Cliffs at Mountain Park, Travelers Rest, SC
(Gary Player)

  • Sliver/Gold Combo tees 5,891 yards (M: 68.8/123), longest par 4 386 yards, one par 5 over 500 yards (518)
  • Gold tees at 5,624 yards (M: 67.7/121), par 4s from 290 yards to 370, par 5s 430 yards to 493.
  • Note:  Mountain Park, 20 minutes from Greenville, is one of seven courses in the Cliffs portfolio; membership in one provides play at all. Course and slope ratings from the Copper tee boxes are 69.1 and 119, respectively, over 4,979 yards.