Which Tee Box Should You Play?

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Choosing the Right Tee Box For More Fun and Enjoyment

It used to be that many courses had two, maybe three different tee boxes – back, middle, and forward tees. Some golfers still refer to these as men’s or ladies’ tees, or by their different colors, like blue, white, and red tees.

Over the last decade, there has been a push for golf courses to add additional tee boxes and more playing options for all golfers. Why? For the purpose of more golf enjoyment overall.

As courses add these additional tees, it can be confusing to know which tees to actually hit from.

How do you choose which set of tee boxes to play?

Let’s first look at the reason for having and needing different tee boxes.

Golf Courses Adding More Tee Boxes

In 2011, the PGA and USGA came out with Tee it Forward which was a “new national initiative to be conducted at golf facilities nationwide encouraging all golfers to play the course at a length that is aligned with their average driving distance”. (link)

It now seems to be a growing trend among golf courses – to add new tee forward tee boxes. Though some are adding an option to play a hole longer, the majority of courses are adding a whole set of forward tees and thus, shortening the course for more playability.

My home golf course, a traditional New England Donald Ross-designed course is rather challenging with many protected and elevated greens. Throw in the fact that the course used to play especially long from the forward tees at just over 5500 yards.

I was excited when my club added a new set of forward tees, which shortened the course by over 600 yards. This new tee box plays at 4900 yards.

The first few times I played from these new tees, I realized that I could actually reach the green on many holes in two, which made playing the game much more fun.

And it is not just a benefit for women. Today I often see new golfers, women, seniors, kids and families using these tees.

The Importance of Playing From the Right Tee Boxes or Distances

Beth Ann Nichols of Golf Week wrote a very interesting article about women’s professional golfers, their distances, and how setting up golf courses with the appropriate distance from the tee box can impact not only the viewership of women’s golf but the overall enjoyment of playing the game for everyone.

Midway through her article, she mentions a few golf courses and individuals who have done much work on spreading the word and continue to spearhead this initiative.

Golf Course Designer and Landscape Architect, Jan Bel Jan, has been a fierce proponent over the years of designing golf courses with appropriate tee box setups and accessibility that account for all golfers. She speaks nationally on the topic of “Setting Up Golf Courses for Success”. Golf course owners and operators are realizing that they can increase their overall participation and business by offering more teeing and golfing options for all types of recreational and amateur golfers.

Which Set of Tees Should I Be Playing From?

Calculating Where to Tee Off From

Based on the amount of distance that a golfer hits their drive or other shots, it is best to play from a tee box that will allow you to play the course as it was meant to be played.

This means at par.

Think of how much more fun it would be to play a hole that you can make the green in 2 shots versus a long course where you always have to hit 3 or 4 shots just to reach the green. 

Each golfer has to look at their own golf game to determine the best set of tees to play from. And it pretty much comes down to your distance. Some like to use driving distance, but I recently saw a calculation based on using the 5 iron as well.

Both methods provided me with a very similar overall course distance.

Determining the Best Tees To Play

Here’s the way to calculate your distance.

Method 1

Athletic_Motion_Golf posted an Instagram post with a calculation that got many in the golf world buzzing. The formula uses a golfer’s distance with a 5 iron to calculate the overall course distance that you should be playing from.

Multiply your 5 iron distance by the number 36.

I hit my 5 iron about 135 yards. Using this calculation, 135 x 36 = 4860 yards. I should be playing from a tee box that is about 4900 yards. Interestingly, the new forward tee box that was added at my home course brought the overall course distance from 5500 to 4900. Hmmm, maybe they did their research when designing these new tees!

Method 2

This method uses the PGA and USGA Tee It Forward initiative and information that they provided to golf courses around the country.

The following chart is what was included in this campaign to make courses and golfers more aware of where they were teeing off from.

Tee It Forward Distance Chart

My average drive is about 180 yards. Using this method and the chart above, it is showing that I should be playing a course that is between 4600 to 5200 yards, which puts me right at 4800, maybe 4900 yards.

Interesting. Pretty much the same result.

The most fun I have is playing from our more forward tees these days. There is a nice mix of long and shorter reachable par 3’s, par 4’s and par 5’s which still makes the course challenging and interesting to play.

Course Distance for the Average Woman Golfer

Using the statistics from a post I wrote on the average golf club distances for women, let’s see what the average course distance should be for a recreational female golfer who drives the golf ball 150 yards.

Using Method 1 above, the best tee box or overall course distance should be between 3500 – 3700 yards. Using Method 2, the average 5 iron distance was calculated at 105 yards. This puts the course distance at about 3780 yards.

Since I am used to playing a longer course, (1700 yards longer than this and now is still 1100 yards longer), this calculated distance seems very short to me. But, because of the 150-yard drive, it is calculating the correct distance.

Interestingly, as I ponder this more, many of the female golfers I play with are all excellent at their short game and approach shots from 75 yards in!

We can look more at this in detail.

Factors to Keep In Mind About Choosing Which Tees to Use

Looking at the Numbers

Golfers that can drive 280 yards are going to play a completely different game than someone who drives their ball 160 yards. Unless they are playing from tee boxes that match their distances. 

Playing a par 4 hole that is 340 yards from the tee box is quite long for the golfer who drives their ball 160 yards.

Colored Tee Box Distances

Using their driver, then a second shot at 130 yards, they will still be 50 yards short of the green and won’t even come close to reaching the green in two as the course was designed. An approach shot will always be needed.

However, if the course offers a forward tee that is 280 yards to the hole, this same par 4 green is now reachable in two shots and this golfer now has the opportunity at making a par.


Combo Tees

Some golf courses are also becoming more creative with their standard tee boxes by combining or creating what are called combo tees.

For example, let’s say a course has blue, white, yellow, and red tee boxes. Red being the most forward and blue being the furthest back. A golf course may have 4 different tee boxes, however, they could offer 7 different options by combining different tee boxes.

Like blue/white, white/yellow, and yellow/red tees. The course scorecard shows where a golfer tees to tee off from on each hole. And each set of combo tees have their own course rating and slope.

Tee Boxes Used in Competition

If you are competing in a tournament, golfers typically don’t have the choice to choose their tee box. The rules will state where to tee off. Sometimes these may differ depending on the level of play as well as the age and gender. Casual tournament play might offer more flexibility.

Playing Partners & Playing From Different Tee Boxes

Don’t worry about your playing partners and where they are teeing off from. When I play with my husband and his friends or my golfing partners, I just let them know which tees I am going to play that day.

I feel like it is better for my game to tee off where I am most comfortable playing.

When my husband and I play from our respective tees, it levels the playing field and we can compete against each other. Sometimes I do outdrive my husband! Since he hits a much longer second shot than I do, it equals out in the long run.

Which Tee Box Should I Use as a New Golfer?

If you are new to golf, it is important to play from the appropriate tees for your game as well. My suggestion is to tee it up as close as you can to the hole. Most new golfers aren’t going to be very consistent in their distances and will appreciate as much advantage as they can get. Your playing partners won’t mind either especially if it makes golf less frustrating and more fun for you.

Some golf courses offer junior and family tees with special tee markers set up in the fairway to help new golfers, juniors, kids and families. This made a huge difference when we were teaching our children the game. Ask the pro shop or starter when you tee off if there are family tees out on the course. If there aren’t any, you can always create your own and tee it up in the fairway. If you want to start keeping an official score for a tournament or handicap purposes, then it makes sense to tee off from the designated tee boxes.

The Benefits of Playing From the Correct Tees

Playing from a tee box that is too long can be frustrating and even exhausting. Teeing it up closer can help keep golfers motivated and feeling good about their game, which is very important to all levels of golfers. Here are a few interesting precentages taken from the survey on the USGA Tee It Forward page.

  • 56% are likely to play golf more often
  • 56% played faster
  • 83% hit more lofted clubs into greens
  • 85% had more fun
  • 93% will Tee It Forward again

Changing It Up – Playing From Different Tee Boxes

I do want to mention that it is ok to change it up and play different tee boxes from time to time. If I am out playing alone or practicing for a tournament, I still do like to play from the longer tees because they provide a challenge.

It helps to work on different aspects of the golf game.  If I have two well-hit shots (a drive and fairway wood), I’ll likely still need to hit an approach shot onto the green from 100 yards in or less. Playing from a longer tee box helps me practice not only fairway shots, but also my short game and up and downs.

Play the Tees That Will Provide the Most Enjoyable Experience

Remember that golf is supposed to be both challenging and rewarding. Think about this the next time you are heading out to the first tee and be sure to use the methods above to see if you are playing from the best tees for your game and distance.

Noone wants golf to be frustrating or more exhausting than it already is. It should be fun! Choosing to play from the most appropriate tees for your game is going to give you a lot more enjoyment in your rounds.

Related Posts:

Golf Club Distances for Women

Club Selection – How to Choose the Right Club on the Course

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