A little nudging is all it took for golfers at Cherry Hill Club to get behind “Tee It Forward.”
“It seems to just take one round or friends encouraging them,” said Aaron Pye, Cherry Hill’s head golf professional, of convincing players – particularly the ego-driven male variety – that moving up to an appropriate set of tee boxes can be beneficial. “They get over that [ego] pretty quick.”
A joint initiative from the PGA of America and United States Golf Association, “Tee It Forward” is the brainchild of Adams Golf founder Barney Adams. It aims to have golfers play courses from a set of tees more suited to their abilities.
The idea is golfers will enjoy the game more and speed up pace of play which, as one can attest if he or she has been stuck in a six-hour round, can be enjoyment in itself.
Moving up ideally means golfers will be able to hit more 6- or 7-irons into greens instead of hybrids or longer, harder-to-hit irons. That should lead to more birdie opportunities (and who doesn’t like those?).
“We’re trying to get people to have a better chance of hitting the green in regulation. That’s the main purpose behind teeing it forward, is so guys aren’t trying to get up and down every time for pars, that they do have a chance to get to the green,” Pye said. “It just seems to make everyone a little bit happier on the golf course, having the chance to hit the green in regulation like courses are designed for, instead of having to go in with 3-woods and missing greens.
“A lot of guys and ladies don’t hit it far enough. They’re always going to have a full shot in. We’ve definitely found players are playing back too far and not having a chance to really enjoy the course where they should be playing.”
And it’s not just at Cherry Hill, the private Fort Erie club that has a membership that’s about 85 percent Americans. Adams found that the average male amateur golfer with a double-digit handicap thinks he drives the ball 250 to 280 yards, when the actual average is 200 to 230.
That brought Adams to the conclusion that, for an amateur to hit the same club into the green that a professional does on a 7,300-yard course, he or she would have to play a course that measures 6,200 yards (see accompanying chart).
That doesn’t mean courses need to create new tee boxes, since several of them have multiple options already in place. At Cherry Hill, for example, there are black (7,027 yards), blue (6,761), white, red and green tee markers.
The blacks are for championship-level players and the blues for single-digit handicappers, which means the vast majority of golfers shouldn’t be stepping on those. The next part is where it gets tricky. The white tees, at 6,473 yards have traditionally been known as “men’s” and the reds (5,862) as “women’s,” but Cherry Hill is trying to eliminate those distinctions.
Instead, the green tees (5,762) will be the forward tees, while the reds can be used for ladies, seniors or whoever else’s style of play they fit best.
Pye said it wasn’t as tough of a sell as might be expected.
“Guys saw the value in moving forward,” he said. “It just took some time or some of their buddies to say, ‘let’s try the forward tees today’ and players did enjoy it more. We were pretty encouraged by the participation of guys moving up a set of tees. Guys weren’t reluctant.”
Ego, it seems, is the only deterrent to Tee It Forward.
“The first year I took this job, having set up courses for tournaments for almost 40 years, our first event was the Senior Men’s Stroke Play,” said Tom Sprague, the executive director of the Buffalo District Golf Association. “I moved the Legends Flight, 75 years-plus, forward to the women’s tee and the 65 years-plus to the senior tees.
“They were livid. I was insulting them; it was too easy; they wouldn’t have fun, etc. Well, of course, there was no change in scoring and they had a great time. I’ve never heard a word since.”
Cherry Hill instituted Tee It Forward last season as a pilot program, and given its success is staying with it this year.
So is Transit Valley Country Club in East Amherst, which has added a fourth set of tees.
“We’ve stopped assigning genders to them,” said Jeff Mietus, the director of player development at Transit Valley and also the head coach for the Niagara University men’s golf team. “It was met with resistance, then we started to hear, ‘those tees are fun.’
“The whole goal is to try and make golf fun again. One of the complaints is the game is too hard. This is one of the ways to fix that complaint.”
Teeing it forward has become part of the culture at Transit Valley, so much so that Mietus will take beginning golfers and bypass the tees entirely.
“We take them out to the 150 [yard]- marker and have them play from there,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense to do it.”
The website playgolfamerica.com allows users to enter their zip code, and pulls up courses that participate in Tee It Forward within 30 miles.
According to the website, Tee It Forward had positive feedback in 2012, with 56 percent of golfers saying they played faster and are more likely to play more often, 83 percent saying they hit more lofted clubs into greens, 85 percent saying they had more fun and 93 percent saying they’d move up a tee box again.
Golfers worried about Tee It Forward messing with their handicap need not fret. The USGA’s website, usga.org, has a section devoted to posting a score from an unrated set of tees, under “Handicapping FAQs.”
275 yards 6,700-6,900
250 yards 6,200-6,400
225 yards 5,800-6,000
200 yards 5,200-5,400
175 yards 4,400-4,600
150 yards 3,500-3,700
125 yards 2,800-3,000
100 yards 2,100-2,300
* As determined by the PGA of America and United States Golf Association.