Before this winter really bared its teeth, I played an eye-opening game of golf with my 88-year old uncle from Australia. We took on the Montgomerie Course at Carton House and as we made our way to the first tee, I was landed with his three local rules.
- Rule 1 – He would get a free drop out of any bunker. Convenient on a course more craterous than the moon.
- Rule 2 – He could tee the ball up on the fairway. Controversial but OK.
- Rule 3 – He would play from the forward (red) tees. Absolutely!
Now with a fiver on the line, the course wet and being the Sabbath, I teed-up from the green tees not to be killing myself of a Sunday either, and to give myself a chance. We hired a ride-on buggy to get my octogenarian playing partner around and as a twosome, we quickly caught the group ahead, a three-ball walking; walking being the operative word because they couldn’t play golf.
They navigated the course militarily – Left, Right, Left – and instead of calling us through, they would pick up where necessary and race to the next tee. But it wasn’t so much the chill setting into our bones as we waited for them that frustrated us. It was that they were torturing themselves from the white tee boxes, and us by association. Typical men. Obsessed with length. In denial about ability. Stubbornness stifling their game.
It will never cease to amaze me how many players voluntarily tee up from the back markers or close to despite being totally incapable, playing Par-4s as par-5s, rendering par-3s unreachable, and turning an enjoyable game of golf into a slog just to protect a preposterous ego.
It’s behaviour I observed for years as the starter on that very Montgomerie first tee box. There’s an amusing sign by the opening hole that informs players that they’re in Co. Meath upon driving, but when their balls land, they should be in Kildare.
You wouldn’t believe how reluctant players were to leave The Royal County.
If you haven’t played the course – and I’d recommend it – the red tee sits across the bridge, safely in Kildare, taking the river Rye out of play altogether. When I was marshal ten years ago, it was referred to as the ladies’ tee, so perhaps you could forgive the confusion of a society of men when I started a fourball of women from the green tee box ahead of them.
As the women put their pegs in the ground, the men cackled at the sight, shouting fore to get the women’s attention only to usher them away over the bridge to their “rightful place” on the course.
Unmoved, the women said nothing. Neither did I. It made what happened next all the more enjoyable.
Four missiles, one launched after the other, were sent into orbit, taking the bunkers down the left completely out of play. Where some balls soared mightily, others retreated; the apologetic men wishing the quartet of flushers a pleasant game as they urged the ground to swallow them whole.
What I’d failed to tell the lads was that the four women in question were four professionals over from America. The tees they selected matched their ability. If only the same was true of the society who had a hard time reaching Kildare.
As the 2023 season approaches, I’d like to think the game has moved on from gender assigned tee-boxes, and that ability can guide golfers as to their appropriate tee markers on any given day. Hartford Golf Club in England certainly thinks so. The club recently popped up on Twitter with their recommended tees by score: 80 and under (blue), 81-90 (white), 91-100 (gold) and 100+ (red).
I think it’s an idea that should be adopted by clubs the world over. The amount of friends I play with who are insulted by the mere suggestion of playing up a tee, yet I’d wager most of them wouldn’t break their handicap playing from the reds because as well as they can drive the ball, it’s 100 yards and in that repeatedly lets them down.
Golf is challenging enough without starting off on the wrong foot – see Robin Williams’ great sketch about how the Scottish invented it. And I guarantee you’ll enjoy the game much more if you’re playing from the correct tees for you.
That was certainly the case with my 88-year old uncle. I took him down 2&1 but his local rules made a match of it, and if it wasn’t for the three-ball delaying us in front and the poor Queenslander frozen solid in the buggy beside me, he might’ve even won.
Instead he tells me he’ll be updating his rules when he turns 90, and why wouldn’t he?