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Playing From The Forward Tees

There have been a couple of things that have popped up on the various golf site/channels that I follow and they struck a bell with me because they essentially come back to one of my favourite golfing ‘games’. I say game, but this can be anything from a fun change of pace to a really effective way to score better on the course. I am talking about playing from the forward tees.

There isn’t Just One Tee Box

The last mention I saw of this was from golf youtuber Coach Lockey which popped up in my feed. To be totally honest, I don’t actually watch that much youtube golf, at least compared to what I used to. I enjoy seeing some of the people on there, but find that, more and more, there is a clickbaity title that just puts me off. Anyway, that is a personal gripe and I do enjoy coach Lockey’s stuff in general (but if he ever reads this, please stop with the ‘I can’t believe….’ etc video titles.)

The video in question was this one.

To cut a long story short, he talks about something that Bryson Dechambeau was saying. Basically, the gist is to play from the shortest possible tees and get used to scoring very low. Having regular eagle putts and driving greens or caving a chip to get up and down for par helps us to get used to really attacking the course and shooting well under par, or so the story goes.

Red Tees: Not just for the Ladies

Now this is something I do, and have written about before. As I believed I mentioned then, I bumped into a couple of very low handicap longer hitters recently who were doing this on my home course.

The point where I differ from Bryson and where Mathew Lockey seems to differ too judging by his comments in the video, is just how well this actually transfers to scoring better.

Of course, any course should be easier, often much easier, from the forward tees. As an example, I played a local course on Sunday from the white tees. These are basically the back tees outside of professional competition mode where some of the holes might move back even further to black tees, but only on some holes.

It isn’t a stupidly long course, but it is certainly long enough. Two of the par fours are close to 450 yards (over 400m). 4 more are well over 400 yards/360 metres. Two par threes are 190m/210 yards. This is all into greens that are both quite fast and with a fair bit of slope, as attested by my four (or was it five?) 3-putts, but that is another story. None of the par fives was reachable in two for me either even though I was driving the ball well.

Change the Tees and Change the Course

Of course, in online golf, everyone is hitting a little six into these par threes and playing a 450 yard par four as driver-wedge, but in reality, these are long holes for even reasonable golfers. I was playing with another golfer who hits it pretty well off the tee and there were a couple of times when he was reaching for a 7 or even 5 wood into greens.

So what would happen if I stepped up from the white tees to the red tees? Well, let’s look at the longest par four. suddenly, the 400m (440 yard) monster has become a 300m (330yard) “rest” hole.A 210 yard par 3 is now a 120 yard par three. Without I doubt I would have scored better playing on this course.But does that make it a good idea?

Well, in some ways, that is a resounding yes! It is a lot of fun having a score on the card that you might see on the tv. The idea of breaking par becomes a reality. I have done it a few times on my own course. However, outside of this increased enjoyment (which is, of course very important in and of itself), what happened to my scores when I went back to the ‘big boy tees?’

Essentially nothing. I didn’t miraculously get better but nor did I get worse. It made a course I know very well into a different course but it generally doesn’t do much to make me better either. And when you think about this, it makes perfect sense. If we take our 440 hole, it has now become 330. Suddenly, I am playing a different golf hole. For example, I am still hitting driver off the tee? Maybe from the whites, I don’t really have a choice. A hybrid or fairway might not be enough for a forced carry. From the reds, I could perhaps hit six iron off the tee.

Distance and Dispersion

This isn’t just about distance. My dispersion with a six iron is (usually!) far better than with a driver. I am probably further along the fairway and also might likely to actually be in the fairway! What about the hazards? I can probably miss that fairway bunker with a six when it is a real danger with the big stick.

OF course, this is actually slightly changing the point from the video. Bryson was saying, I think, that you should still play the hole as if you were at the back tees. Driver usually? Driver it is. Of course, this is still changing the hole. There are almost certainly no fairway bunkers there for someone who hits it 250 yards (or whatever) from the red tees. It is a far easier shot than for the woman who hits her drive nicely to 175, exactly where these bunkers might be when I will be flying them comfortably. When I head back to the whites, suddenly these bunkers are perfect for my 265 off the tee.

The same is also true for the second shots of course. Rather than hitting a five iron into that green, I am now hitting a 50 degree wedge. My accuracy is better, I can fly the greenside trap, the ball will stop on the green and so on. It isn’t just distance, the shot is simply far easier. I am hitting a very short club into a green designed to be a challenge for a long club. My proximity to the hole will go up, I will hit a large number of greens in reg (or even reg-1) and even my first putts should be shorter which leads to fewer (or no) 3 putts.

So does this mean that we should all stay as far back as possible? Certainly not. Firstly, I am a big fan of playing tees based on enjoyment. The fact that someone is a certain handicap doesn’t mean they should be pushed as far back as possible. I have often told the story of a guy I played with who was a solid 12 but getting on a bit and not the longest hitter to start off with. There were at least a couple of holes where the tee shot basically became impossible for him because of a forced carry that needed quite a bit of height to get up on a plateau. He could hit a million balls from the whites, he just doesn’t have that shot in the bag. How frustrating is that?

Make the Game Enjoyable

Secondly, as I said before, variety is fun. Personally, I love hitting irons more than any other club. I also like to play with a minimal set up most of the time. I don’t really care about the score, I want to hit as many towering iron shots as I can. I will happily choose the tee box that lets me do this. Often, this is different from hole to hole. On a longer par four, I will move up a box (or two) so that I can hit six iron, six iron. On a par three, I might stay back so that I don’t have a wedge off the tee. I simply want to enjoy hitting a nice bladed seven iron as many times as possible or whatever.

Is playing from the forward tees a good idea? Yes, it is, but the fact that you can score much better isn’t necessarily going to make you into a scratch golfer tomorrow. I think there is something to be said for getting used to putting for par or better more often. That six footer for a double is a much easier putt than the same distance for par and so getting to practise it for par makes sense.

It is also a smart way of getting more for less. Many of us play the same course most of the time. This can get at least a little bit boring. Playing from other tees lets you discover something different about that same old set-up.

Finally though, it all comes down to what you want to do. I find that I get more and more irritated by the ‘have to’ brigade in golf. Let people play from where they want. There is, of course, a proviso to this in that it shouldn’t hold up other golfers. Nothing is more annoying than being stuck behind a complete hack who feels like he needs to be playing the ‘big boy tees’ and takes about three shots before he reaches the red tee box anyway!

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