In 2011, the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association announced a new initiative, Tee it Forward.
The idea was “to help golfers have more fun on the course and enhance their overall experience by playing from a set of tees best suited to their abilities.”
The concept encouraged all golfers to play a course at a yardage that aligns with the average distance they hit a drive.
A chart was produced that recommended the following course yardage in relationship to how far you hit your drives:
Driver Distance Recommended 18 Hole Yardage 275 6,700 - 6,900 250 6,200 - 6,400 225 5,800 - 6,000 200 5,200 - 5,400 175 4,400 - 4,600 150 3,500 - 3,700 125 2,800 - 3,000 100 2,100 - 2,300
The theory was that if golfers adopted these yardage guidelines, they’d be hitting more approach shots with 6 and 7 irons instead of fairway woods, hybrids or long irons (assuming someone still hits long irons).
The golf experience would be maximized, scores would be lower, making the game more fun and, hopefully, people would want to play more often. Another positive result: Playing from the appropriate yardage would mean quicker rounds.
In theory, Tee it Forward should’ve worked. But theory doesn’t always translate into reality.
In the years since 2011, only a small percentage of players have moved up a set of tee markers, even as age led to declining distance on tee shots.
The big question: Why hasn’t Tee it Forward been more universally accepted?
Is it due to ego? People don’t want to move up a set of tees because it’s an admission they don’t hit the ball as far as they used to. Who hits it farther as they get older? I know I don’t.
Or are the rest of your foursome playing a longer yardage and you don’t want to upset the chemistry of the group, so you just play from the same tees they’re playing?
Or maybe you just want to play from the same tees you played 20 years ago?
This subject is, again, a logical segue to the continued hot topic of how far the ball goes. The USGA is taking a serious look at whether it thinks the ball is going too far, and whether driving distance gains on the PGA Tour in the past 3 years will destroy the game. If so, the USGA might legislate restrictions on how far the golf ball can travel.
That would be a serious mistake. The PGA of America and the PGA Tour is against any restrictions to the golf ball and have made that abundantly clear to the USGA.
Arccos is a popular Microsoft-based system that captures a golfer’s performance data in real time.
Designed to improve your golf game, Arccos seamlessly calculates all your performance data as you are playing. It then uses the power of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to help you make smarter decisions and, hopefully, results in lower scores.
Arccos captures thousands of data points during every round you play. Users then receive accurate reports about how far they hit each club, what skills need improvement, etc.
Let’s look at data that has been gathered by Arccos, based on more than 10 million drives with a driver.
According to a study of Arccos users’ driving habits since 2015, “driving distances across all age groups have gone down.”
In an examination of data from 2015-18, “the trend showed no real increases in driving distances in that time for average golfers.”
The Arccos data shows the average drive for the average golfer in 2018 is 217.1, down from 220.6 in 2015.
In the USGA/R&A Distance Report, it’s noted that driving distance in the average golfer group dropped by 9 yards.
The data was similar when driving distance was analyzed by handicap. All handicap levels lost yardage except the group with 0-to-5 handicaps. That group had a 2.4 yard increase in driver distance from 2015 to 2018.
Every other handicap group has lost driving distance since 2015.
Does this data scream for a rollback of the distance a golf ball travels? I don’t think so. But the USGA/R&A seems to be zeroing in on the world’s 500 or so tour players.
Arccos data also shows a steady decline in distance as we age. No surprise there. There was a loss of almost 40 yards for those in their 70s to those in their 20s.
In the past 25 years, the average USGA handicap for a man has improved from 16.3 to 14.4.
For women, the improvement is from 29.7 in 1991 to 26.1 in 2016.
Arccos also has accumulated data on the average distance for 7 irons across all age groups and handicaps. The average overall 7 iron distance is 143.3 yards. PGA Tour players average 172 yards with a 7 iron.
This isn’t breaking news, but the average golfer is playing an incredibly different game than that played by tour players.
There have been some gains. New golf club technology is helping the weakest of the average golfers.Those players with handicaps of 6 or higher realized a driving increase of 2 yards from 1996 to 2017, 234 to 236 yards.
Those with handicaps 22 and higher realized a 23 yard increase from 165 to 188 yards from 1996 to 2017.
To sum it all up;
1. We don’t hit the ball farther, or as far, as we get older.
2. We think we hit the ball farther than we really do. We have a simulator at Tedesco with a launch monitor. The first few years we had it, I was constantly being asked if the distance readings were correct. Unfortunately, they were. One member nicknamed the launch monitor “the Lie Detector.”
3. We hit the ball shorter as we get older
4. We should reassess what course yardage we play and try moving up a set of markers.
5. Based on the Arccos data, the USGA/R&A is way off base in their concern the ball is going too far, unless they’re focusing solely on is how far Tour players hit their driver. Tour players are collectively the smallest group of golfers, and their data should not be the only data considered when judging how far the ball goes.
I wish I could play the same tees I did 20 years ago. Actually, I wish I could hit it somewhat near as far with a driver as I did 20 years ago.The sad reality is I can’t. Even with graphite shafts, 460cc titanium driver heads and solid golf balls.
Age has taken a toll on the distance I hit my drives. So I have moved up a set of tees. I try to play the tees that are 6,100-6,200 yards. I have a lot more fun playing that yardage than 6,500-6,800 yards. I hit more greens in regulation. I hit high irons instead of hybrids, and, consequently, I have shorter birdie putts and shoot lower scores than I did from 6,600 yards.
And isn’t that what golf is all about, being with friends and having fun?
Bob Green is in his 40th year as the head golf professional at Tedesco Country Club in Marblehead. Write to him at email@example.com.