One of the most difficult decisions any golfer makes is when to move up a set of tees. Moving all the way up to the senior tees is an emotional decision that too many put off for too long.
Confusing the issue further: I don’t have any better definition or idea of what defines a “senior” golfer than you do. Is it the age at which you get a price break in the pro-shop? Is it the age you can play on the Champions Tour, or the USGA Senior Open? The age you qualify as a “senior” in your city championship? Is it once you start feeling like a senior? A common definition in the golf community would be helpful.
THE SENIOR FOURSOME
A guy walked into a new course pro shop to check in for his tee time at the same time a regular foursome of senior players was just finishing their round. The Pro asked the foursome, “So, how’d it go today boys?”
Ralph replied, “Not so good. I had 3 riders, and Bill had two. Carl had 7 so was about average for him.”
The fourth guy interrupted, “But I set a personal best with 13!” The other guys all mumbled, as “sandbagger” and other less polite terms were thrown his way.
As they headed to the 19th Hole, the guy waiting to check in said, “Hey, I’ve played a lot of golf in a lot of places and thought I’d heard all the terms, but that’s a new one, and I have no idea, even after hearing the discussion, what they are talking about. What the hell is a ‘rider’?”
The Pro laughed. “Oh, it’s something those guys came up with. It’s the number of times they hit the ball far enough that they actually have to get back in the cart to ride to the next shot!”
That is how a lot of golfers view the stereotypical “senior golfer.” Often that first step to counting “riders” is playing from the forward tees, and we don’t want to go there.
In the old days of persimmon woods and balata balls, golf courses typically had three sets of tees: the blue tees for the good player, the white tees for the average player, and the red tees
for the ladies and senior player. The first variation- that I noticed, anyway- was the addition of what were usually black-colored tees. These began appearing after high-tech golf equipment caused high-tech golf balls to go high-tech distances. So black tees (sometimes green, sometimes, well, pick a color), were added behind the traditional blue tees.
The next set of tees that were added (the fifth set, if you’ve lost count), were usually gold, aka “senior” tees, that were placed ahead of the red, or “ladies”, tees.
And yes, it would be difficult to be color-blind and play golf. Which set of tees is which color on this course???
Confused yet? So is Shooting Your Age.
THE SENIOR TEES
Regardless of their color, “senior” tees have a very distinct connotation attached to them: They are to be played by people of a certain age who are so old they can’t hit it out of their own shadow. Or so goes one common stereotype.
One of the fundamental questions that SYA wanted to explore was, what, exactly, is that age? At what point should a golfer consider moving to the senior tees? When they start drawing Social Security? When they can no longer walk unassisted? After they turn 50? 80?
But the most fundamental question is, should it even be age-based?
Inquiring minds want to know. Well, mine did.
I decided to turn to some experts. I consulted the following:
· Ken Green, 5-time PGA Tour winner and member of the 1989 Ryder Cup Team;
· Two separate PGA Teaching Professional and Golf Course Managers who remain nameless only because politics in the city result in their shying away from being quoted- however, their knowledge remains valuable;
· Rear Admiral Michael Broadway, USN (ret.), a former Commanding Officer of mine and an accomplished amateur golfer in Savannah who chose to move to the “senior” tees;
· Del Ratcliffe, PGA Class A Professional, and owner of Ratcliffe Golf Services which manages multiple courses in the Charlotte, NC area;
· Bill Pockl, a 79-year old golfer from Wheeling, WV, who made the decision two years ago to move up to the gold tees.
MAKING THE DECISION
“The short answer, in my opinion, is the appropriate tee for any given individual has nothing to do with age, gender or even ‘ego.” It has to do with the playing ability of that individual. It is evident that people enjoy the game more if they are presented a challenge that is appropriate to their skill set…the appropriate tees are the ones that allow you to reach the landing area with that distance and have an approach shot into the green that is comparable to what the design of the hole intended.”
“Golfers make the move up way too late, in my opinion. The male ego gets in the way. I don’t play the tips anymore, and sometimes I even go to the whites depending on the length of the course.”
[NOTE: Ken’s lower right leg was amputated after a horrible accident in which his RV blew a tire and crashed. He wears a prosthetic, and understandably, his length is diminished from what it once was.]
He continues, “My theory is you should try and shoot whatever your best golf was when you were younger. 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?”
His final thought is quite insightful: “Go to the tee where you can beat your best score. Golf will figure out a way to stop you.”
Bill is 79 and just had knee surgery. He told me, “Until a few years ago, I could shoot in the low 80’s, but then my scores crept up and became the high 80’s. I just couldn’t keep up. On some holes, from the white and even red tees, I couldn’t reach the fairway. I began using the gold tees just on the par 5s, but then started using them on all holes. I can make birdies and even an occasional eagle again.”
When I asked him what he was shooting now, he said, “Back in the low 80’s. I’m having a lot more fun now.”
PGA Golf Professionals:
“A lot of seniors are discouraged about moving forward because that next tee could be red, and they associate that with ladies. We always try and call them forward tees, not ladies tees. Tee it up from wherever the hell you want- I would never discourage anyone from teeing it up anywhere, even if it’s in front of existing tees. It’s about having fun and coming back, not feeling like they went a couple of rounds with a boxer. In everyday play, I think the person should play the tees that allow them to hit irons in to the par 4’s.”
“Tournament play is different. During the city tournament, 60 and older play from the red tees, 59 and under play from the white tees.”
Admiral Mike Broadway
Admiral Broadway had a slightly different angle: “I play in a league on Tues, Wed and Fri. Most everybody is a senior, so for me it was just a matter of convenience and speed of play to stay with most of the group on the senior tees.. I still have the distance to play the whites and maybe the blues, but I’m not consistent with my ball striking. My logic is- I need to work on approach shot consistency and the short game. If I can do that and develop some friendships with some remarkable people then the senior tees are just fine. I’m not blessed with tremendous athletic ability and, as Clint Eastwood said, ‘A man has to know his limitations’.”
His last comment might be the most important: “And I’m having just as much fun.”
[To piggyback on Admiral Broadway’s comment, I took lessons a few years ago from an intern who was prepping to become a teaching pro. He happened to mention that, in his college golf days, the coach had the team practice once a week from the red tees. They all could pound the driver, as most 20-something college golfers can. When I asked why, he said, “it made us all work on our short games.”]
THE COLOR CONUNDRUM
Most of us remember the “Tee It Forward” initiative launched by the PGA and USGA. The initiative came from Barney Adams of Adams Golf fame, and is based on the fact that pros hit the ball about 1000 yards longer over 18 holes than most of the rest of us. Simple math shows that if the pros are playing a 7200 yard course, we should play at 6200, or even less if we hit it less far. You can read the article on Teeing It Forward here.
And- no one told me this, so I hesitate to bring it up, but I still believe it. The “red tee box” has a fundamentally negative connotation to male golfers who, for years, have played white (or even blue) tees. Moving to the “red” tees admits to not being good enough, powerful enough, man enough (ladies- I’m not being a sexist, just a realist) to be able to play from the regular tees any longer. It’s an emotional decision to make.
There is a critically important caveat to the above statement: Playing from the forward tees because one wants to is one thing; playing from the forward tees because one has to is altogether different. Maybe a solution is to move up before you need to- then it’s your choice rather than by necessity. Hmmmm…….
[I’ve never played from the red tees. Ever. There are times I should have, and times I’ve wanted to, especially after having researched this. Therefore, I just added a 2018 New Year Resolution: I’m going to play a round from the forward tees sometime this spring. Then I’ll report on how it felt and how I played.]
Mr. Ratcliffe also offered this: “A number of years ago I designed a tee sign system that I still believe is what golf needs. It takes away the “assignment” of tees by age, gender or ego, and places it on a simple factor: driving distance. We developed signage borrowed from ski slope difficulty. Double Diamond being the most difficult, and long; and working down to Yellow Moon for those who hit a drive no more than 100 yards.”
I think he’s onto something. If there was a way to eliminate the traditional stigma of playing from the red, or senior tees, and replace that with a name, rather than a color, it might help.
WHAT IF YOU’RE FEMALE?
Another critical factor that is too easily overlooked is the female golfer, especially the senior female golfer. Is it automatic that women should play from the red tees? Ladies, do you just go to the red tees by default? Do you play from the tees that make sense distance-wise, or from the red set that are traditionally for your use?
Playing from the set that makes sense distance-wise cuts both ways. Maybe I’m the only this has happened to, but I can think of at least two occasions where I played in scrambles and one or more of the teams had a college female golfer. The tournament rules stipulated that ladies played from the red tees, men from the white tees. Therefore, these teams had a huge distance advantage with a college-caliber female hitting 230 or 240 yard drives from the red tees, which equated to 280-290 yard drives in some cases for any of the men.
Do any women have qualms about moving up to the “senior” tees from the “ladies” tees? Even if they aren’t a senior? Men have the black/blue/white decision, none of which has any negative stereotype attached to it. If women find a course too long from the red tees, is there any hesitancy to playing from a more forward set?
If there was a common thread to the comments, it was have fun. Without exception, every person I spoke with said the decision on which set of tees to play from should have nothing to do with age. The two criteria that were mentioned repeatedly were: a) Play from the set that allows you to hit your approach shot into the green with an iron; and b) Play from the set where it is the most fun.
For the Golf Course Owners and Operators:
1. Rename the forward tees. Abolish the color stigma from anything closer than the traditional white tees. The Tour Champions play a shorter course than the PGA Tour. No one would be stigmatized by playing tees associated with Tom Watson, Kenny Perry, Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman. As Ken Green suggested, “It couldn’t hurt if new wording was developed.” Some ideas include:
a. Call the traditional red tees or gold tees the Champions Tees.
b. Name the red tees after a famous local golfer, or the club pro that retired after 42 years on the job. No one is stigmatized by playing the “Smith” tees.
c. How about the “Eagle” tees? Want to make more eagles? Play from the eagle tees.
2. Establish course records from each set of tees, and publicize each set of tee records equitably. Of course, the “official” course record will be from the tips, but if you want more players playing the forward tees, allow course records to be posted from each set (you might want to place handicap restrictions on them, but it’s still worth a look).
For the Players:
1. Resolve to play at least one round from a forward set of tees, with your buddies, and see how much fun you have. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
2. Play with a higher-spin ball from the forward set. The short game will be more critical than ever, and distance will not be as important playing a shortened course. So pay attention to the ball- and club selection.
3. SEND ME THE RESULTS! Let me know if there was any emotional scarring, or any psychological breakthroughs that occurred after playing an entire round from a forward set. I’ll do the same. As both Admiral Broadway and Bill Pockl said, “I’m having just as much fun.” Maybe you will also.
I hope I get hundreds of comments back on this. Like it? Let me know. Hate it? Let me know. Course owners and operators- what do you think? Golf professionals? Weigh in: ShootingYourAge@outlook.com
Thanks for reading, and Enjoy Shooting Your Age!