The importance of playing off the ‘right’ tees

8th June 1927: Practice for Eves Ladies' Scottish Foursomes at Machrihanish. The remote golf course at Machrihanish was designed by Scottish golfer 'Old' Tom Morris and was officially founded by a group of eight friends on 11th March 1876. (Photo by E. Bacon/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Jeff- Greetings, Mutt! Haven’t seen you for a while. How have the game and lockdown been treating you?

Mutt- Very badly on both accounts! It has been hard to bear. At first, I was delighted that we were allowed to play any golf, but my joy has worn thin. All of the new rules, regulations and restrictions are getting under my skin. You can’t go here, you can’t go there; in one door, out another; too much regimentation; roped off areas everywhere, on the course and off it; confusing obligations to wear masks in some areas but not in others; difficulty in finding convenient tee times and suitable playing companions, the novelty of playing with perfect strangers has long ago worn off; putting from two feet with the pin in; worst of all (and suddenly) not being able to reach some of the fairways and finishing in thick rough because of it, means I have stopped enjoying the game. If golf isn’t fun, what is the point?

Jeff- Wow! You are in a bad mood.


Mutt- In spite of hitting plenty of good shots; greens in reg are few and far between. Nearly every golf course I play is too long. I’m coming off the golf course disappointed, aggravated, unfulfilled and in bad form. I am thinking of taking the infamous advice: Give it up for a while (probably for the winter) and then give it up altogether (when the Spring comes around) What bothers me is not that I’ll miss it but how to fill the big hole in my life that golf will leave behind?

Jeff- Are you mad? That’ll only speed up the long slow walk to the graveyard.

Mutt- Fr. Time beats us all in the end. What difference does it make whether it is on the 13th, 16th or tie hole? When you’re gone, you’re gone! It is obvious that at some point in my life, golf would end for me. It does for everyone. I’ll miss it, but I can’t complain. I’ve played it for 60-years; half of it off 1-handicap or better. These days, when I play it’s for the walk and the fresh air and to help keep my body half-fit but the loss of muscle power in my mid-70s is too much to bear. I have tried Pilates, Yoga and going to the gym – nothing halts the march of time. From the age of reason, I have been an ultra-competitive person by nature, which is not bad thing when you are young, fit and able. It’s soul-destroying, however, when you are halfway into your 70s and yard-by-yard, falling further and further behind and can barely reach some fairways from the blue tees. As often as not, my positive mood on the first tee diffuses into a frustrated restlessness with an over-whelming desire to be somewhere else before I reach the ninth green. I have known this moment of decision has been on the cards for a long time. It’s was hard decision to make (probably two years in the making) but it’s no big deal. I will always love the game and take a keen interest in it.

Jeff- That’s a very pessimistic outlook. Things can’t be that bad and neither can your golf. Why are you always so negative?

Mutt- I’m a realist who made a big mistake! I signed up for a TrackMan lesson and when I found out that my swing speed had deteriorated so much, it put me into a deep depression that made me feel as if rigour mortis had already begun. I’ll never hit a long par 4 in two again, let alone a par 5. Playing golf off 12-handicap and hoping to shoot half-a-dozen pars in a round has no appeal.

Jeff- Heifer dust! I know what is wrong. You are playing off the wrong tees. You should play a course that is ’the proper length for you’. Park your pride and move forward. Then you will be able to hit all of the greens in regulation. Don’t bother about competitive golf. You have nothing to prove. By and large, Irish golf courses do not have enough teeing grounds. Instead of blue, white and red tee boxes – there should be a bigger choice of course lengths with the appropriate tees marked: 5000-yard course; 5500/6000/6300/6600/6800 going all the way up to 7000+ for the pros and elite amateurs. Colours create macho imbalances and should be done away with.

Mutt- That’s a great idea! I have seen it operating in Sweden and it works.

Jeff- Golf is a game for anybody, eight to 80. Whatever your age, it’s the same good feeling when the ball comes out of the middle of the clubface, but it doesn’t mean everybody must play from the same tees. Enjoy the fresh air and being able to walk around unaided and, when you can, use the ground to steal an extra yard or two. To hell with clubhead speed and competitions! Swallow your pride and surrender to the enjoyment of being alive. Disengage from scientific data and impossible hopes, illusions and fantasies. If you have a bad day, forget it. Tomorrow will be better. For too long, you have derived your enjoyment based completely on your score. Just play the game with the emphasis on the word – play. It’s only a game.

Mutt- Actually, you are correct! The course where I have the most fun these days is The Castle Course at Lahinch, which measures slightly over 6000-yards off the white tees, but there is a good mixture of short and long holes with a premium on accuracy.

Jeff- Who cares if the young buck you are playing with hits an 8-iron onto the green on a par-3 measuring 168-yards and you can get inside him with a 5-wood? Instead of moaning about how short you are get a kick out of it. We may not have much power play in our 70s, but there is no reason why our short games cannot be razor sharp from 100-yards in. You can still hit it 100-yards can’t you? Relying on one’s short game is a sign of strength, not weakness. It means you are an educated, all-round, player not just a ball whacker.

Mutt- It isn’t easy to convince myself to hit longer clubs into the greens.

Jeff- All we should care about is enjoying the game. We are both 75 now and if we play from the 6000-yards tees, we will have a chance to reach the greens in regulation and keep beating our ages for a while yet. Let’s do it and forget about retirement. I anticipated this conversation and did some research. There are formulae to determine appropriate course length. One is to measure how far you hit a 7-iron and multiply by 18 on the assumption that’s the average club for approaching into greens. Add that to the number of par 4 and par 5 holes where you will hit your driver (and how far you can reasonably expect to hit it) then add the two numbers e. g: 18X134=2412 and 14X212=2968. That’s 5380 total yardage. No wonder older golfers struggle on modern golf courses. The game is skewed in favour of the big smashers.

Mutt- I love it! I could manage 5380, and if Rory is playing 7830, I might have a chance of beating him!

Jeff- Off handicap or level?

Mutt- Level, of course. Is there any other way? But, a lot of pride will have to be swallowed by both of us before it would happen.


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