A few months ago, I committed to play from the red tees at some point this year, and share my experience.
I did that today.
A few assumptions and expectations, in fact, came to pass. A few others I hadn’t really thought about also happened. It was a greater and more well-rounded learning experience than I had expected.
First, and most important things first: As far as I know, every single golfer who now plays from a forward set of tees, used to play from the back tees. At least the white, if not the blue (or longer). It’s not like you see a bevy of 25-year olds teeing off on the red tees on any course anywhere. All of those that are on forward tees, had to make the decision to do so. And here is an excellent article from friend Larry Gavrich on his thoughts in doing so just recently.
I’ve never played from the red, or forward tees. I’ve never played any course from anything less than 5900 yards, give or take a few. So this was going to be a new experience for me.
I only played nine holes. There were two reasons for this: First, I wanted to walk and my knee keeps me from playing more than nine at a time unless I’m in a cart (the MRI is scheduled for next week). Second, time was somewhat at a premium, and I was pretty sure I would learn whatever I wanted to learn in nine holes.
I wanted to play mid-morning, after the peak early groups were well underway. I could make up some pretty compelling reasons to share in this public forum, but frankly speaking, I didn’t really want too many people watching me play from the red tees and wonder why. Since the first tee is next to the driving range and practice green, I wasn’t going to be totally unseen, but once underway I pretty much had the course to myself.
The yardage at Cabarrus Country Club from the members tees, which is what I usually play, is almost 6300 yards. From the red tees, the front nine measures 2600 yards.
PLAYING LIKE A PRO
As I said, a few things happened during the round that I hadn’t anticipated. At the top of the list was, at least to a degree, realizing how a professional golfer feels. Here is what I mean: Until I got to the ninth hole, every normal approach shot I hit was a pitching wedge or less. Here is the breakdown
#1 Par 5 Lob wedge
#2 Par 4 Sand wedge
#3 Par 4 Punch out 7-iron (more on that below)
#4 Par 4 Pitching Wedge
#5 Par 3 Pitching Wedge
#6 Par 4 Low punched 7 from under tree
#7 Par 3 Pitching Wedge
#8 Par 5 Sand Wedge
#9 Par 4 5-iron (after a terrible drive)
That would be very similar to the approach shots the PGA players hit. I’ll defer my comments on if the driver-wedge game on tour is really testing a full game, but it was an interesting (enjoyable!) experience to have short irons and birdie putts on so many holes.
Decisions on the Tee
Another aspect I had not considered was that a driver was not always the prudent choice off the tee. For example, on the second hole, normally a long par-4 (and the #1 handicap hole), I hit driver to about 5 yards short of the pond guarding the green. There was an anxious few seconds as I walked closer and closer without seeing the ball! On both the third and fourth holes, which are dogleg right, I drove it through the fairway (on #4 it was with a 3-wood). On #3 I was so far through the fairway I had to punch a 7-iron under a couple of trees short of the green, then chip on and two-putt for bogey.
EXPECTATIONS THAT HAPPENED
As I said, some expectations did in fact happen. It was easier to play. It was easier to walk, since it was shorter. I did in fact have shorter irons as approach shots. I shot a lower score, which I fully expected to shoot (I would have been quite disappointed if I hadn’t, and I for sure wouldn’t be writing this!).
I shot a three-over par 39. Six pars and three bogeys. Two of the three bogeys were as a result of hitting a driver through the fairway. I saved par on the second par-5, a dogleg right, because I was thinking of reaching the green in two and where I should place my drive, and what my second shot could be….then forgot to actually swing at the damn thing! I flared it right into a grove of trees. But a nice 4-iron punch shot, then sand wedge and putt saved that. The point is, having “going for it in two” in the back of my mind was never a thought before today.
I had a different set of decisions to make today than I ever have. Full wedge or take a little off? Driver, or 3-wood off the tee (or even less, if I’d given it more thought in a couple of cases)? Aim for the middle of the green, as I usually do, or actually aim for the flags since I was so much closer?
WHAT I LEARNED
I learned the following:
- In Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, he says that Ben Hogan ranked the three most important clubs as driver, putter, and wedge. I think I would agree with that. When my drive was in the fairway, I was on the green in regulation putting for birdie. When it wasn’t, I wasn’t. My driver has not been reliable, and it’s hard to score from the trees (although I’m getting pretty proficient at it).
- My iron game is my strength. I’ve always known that, but today just emphasized it.
- When playing wedges into the green, I need to be more aggressive and shoot for the pins more often.
WHAT I RECOMMEND
If you have never played from the forward tees, you should. It is a different game from there. Standing on the tee, and needing to make a decision whether or not to club down is a new thought process. Hitting wedges into the par-3s, knowing there is a legitimate birdie chance in front of you, is an enjoyable experience. Walking nine holes in ninety minutes is pretty cool, too.
I will definitely do it again. Sooner and not later.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy Shooting Your Age!