Longer, Straighter, Higher, Faster

The average handicap for players in United States has remained largely unchanged for the last 40 years

As a golf nut, I watch, read and listen to most everything that has to do with golf. That means I watch infomercials, read new product reviews, listen to golfers who have just purchased new equipment, and try out new equipment when the opportunity arises (which it seems to quite frequently).

I have yet to come across a golfer who says, “I just got this new driver because my old one just went too far”.  I hear a lot more of, “this new driver goes 20-30 yards further than my old one”.  Commercials and infomercials convey the same message. They will usually tell you something (sometimes a lot) about a new product and conclude with a testimonial or two about how, “I’ve never hit a club that went, this far”, or for that matter “this straight” or “this high” or “this low” depending on the product being sold.  This scenario applies to drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and irons.

And it goes beyond clubs.  Ball manufacturers are in on the act as well.  Despite the fact that the USGA has restrictions on how far balls can  go, companies persist in telling us that their ball, although USGA approved, goes further than the competition.

Golf tee manufacturers are in on the act as well claiming that their tees will help you drive the ball an extra 2 to 3 yards off the tee.

As indicated in an earlier article, in golf there is no substitute for distance, so if a manufacturer can prove, or at least claim with a straight face, that their  clubs will make the ball go further, or that their ball goes further than other balls, golfers tend to buy it.

In my mind there have been but a few eureka moments in golf in the last 30-40 years where manufacturers changed the game and the way the average golfer plays it in a dramatic way.

1   cast perimeter weighted irons (the Ping revolution);

2  the move from wooden woods to metal woods;

3  the move from the smaller steel heads to the 460 cc titanium heads with thin faces that tend to sling-shot the ball when hit off the center of the face (the trampoline effect);

4  the introduction of hybrids.

As well, let’s not forget shaft material.  Although the big leap occurred before my time, going from hickory to steel was the big jump but even after the introduction of steel shafts manufactures have dabbled in aluminum, titanium and other metals.  The standard nowadays, especially for long clubs, is graphite. With its lower overall wight and precision engineered kick points, graphite has proved to be a consistent performer  when it comes to distance and determining ball flight.

Lastly, the ball.  Where would we be without solid core, multi-layered, soft covered balls  like the ProV1 and its many competitors.

Be careful that you don’t buy new equipment that will make the ball go so far that it makes the current course you play obsolete (he said tongue firmly panted in cheek).

How has this affected the average golfer?  Lets say for the sake of argument you hit the ball 240 yards off the tee and you hit your 7 iron around 150 yards.  That means you should be very comfortable playing par 4’s  up to 390 yards in length, (a 240 yard drive and a 150 yard approach shot).  Lets add-on some of the main  game improvement claims:

Driver         20 -30 yards

Irons           10-15 yards

Ball              10-15 yards

Tees             3-4 yards

Now you play that same 390 yard par 4.  You are hitting your driver from 270 to 285 yards off the tee leaving you an approach shot between 105-120 yards.  And because of the improvements in irons and balls,  an approach  shot that previously would have required anywhere from a gap wedge to a 9 iron now requires only a flop wedge or a sand wedge.

Here is the punch line:  With all your game improvement investments on full display  you hit your flop wedge onto the green and 3 putt for a bogie.  Everything has changed yet nothing has changed.

Despite all the game improvement equipment  that has been introduced you still cannot buy a game.  According to the USGA the handicaps for American golfers have been static for the last 40 years despite all the equipment improvements.




Play From The Tees That Are Right For You

Before you get started please watch this short video.  It may help to put you in the right frame of mind what is to come

Every golf club has a few of these: guys that can’t break 90 but refuse to play any tees other than the back tees.  If you ask them about their tee selection they will say things like, “I paid the full price so why would I play only half the course”;  “I only play from where the pros play”; or “That’s the only way I can compare my game to the  pros”.

Well, the fact is, if you can’t break 90 you have no business comparing your game to the game pros play, it’s an entirely different game and all you will do if you persist is clog up the entire course and rob yourself of any enjoyment the damn game has to give.  Golf is frustrating enough when played off the correct tees, never mind when it is played off tees that far outreach one’s ability.

So why do golfers end up picking the wrong tees?  I think it’s a combination of things:  Ego plays a part in it.  For younger macho players with high levels of testosterone, playing off the whites or the blues would be unthinkable if there are blacks to be had, especially if they are playing with their peers.  No one wants to be the ‘pussy’ that suggests anything other than the blacks.  For older men it may be simply a matter of raging against father time.  They started out playing a particular set of tees as younger men and to change would be to admit their abilities and talents are on the decline.

Women for the most part don’t seem to have this problem.  They tend  as a matter of course to play off tees that match their ability.

Playing off  wrong tees causes two major problems:

  1.  It robs golfers of enjoyment and adds to their frustration with the game. Who wants to play 3-woods or hybrids into par 4’s and 5’s all day, or hybrids or even woods into long, well protected par 3’s?
  2. It slows down the game and affects the enjoyment for all players on the course.

The USGA and the PGA have come up with a program to address this issue, it is called ‘tee it forward’.  The program is designed to ensure that golfers play courses from a length compatible with their abilities, and thereby add to the enjoyment of the game and at the same time speed up play.

Picking the Right Tees

Golf courses provide both general and specific guidance on tee selection for golfers.  It comes in the form of overall distance, course rating and slope.  Distance is pretty self-explanatory.  If you are a bogie golfer on your home course which plays at 6200 yards, don’t be eyeing the 7300 yard tees.

The next hint is the course rating.  Courses that are less difficult to play have a course rating that is below par, e.g.  a rating of 69 on a par 72 course.  Difficult courses have a course rating that is at par or in some cases well over par, e.g.  par 72  course rating 74.5.

The slope rating is also helpful.  In terms of slope, a course rated at 113 is considered middle of the road in terms of difficulty.  A slope rating lower than 113 means it is a relatively easy course, and the higher the rating is above 113 means its more difficult.

Some courses take it a step further and actually suggest the tee you should play based on your handicap factor,   e.g.  0-4  blacks, 4-8 blues,  etc.

Formulas and Tables

Some suggest that a good approach is to take the  average distance (not your best, your average) you hit your 5 iron and multiply it by 36.  The product is the length of course you should play,  eg 36 x 180 = 6480 yards

Another approach is to take your average driving distance and  multiply it by 28, e.g. 240 x 28 = 6720

These two formulas seem reasonable as the numbers used in the examples are my average distances and I’m confident that playing tees up to around 6700 yards I can on average, play to my handicap.

Another easier approach suggested by the USGA is the following chart:


Avg. drive Recommended Tees
300 yards 7,150-7,400 yards
275 yards 6,700-6,900 yards
250 yards 6,200-6,400 yards
225 yards 5,800-6,000 yards
200 yards 5,200-5,400 yards
175 yards 4,400-4,600 yards
150 yards 3,500-3,700 yards
125 yards 2,800-3,000 yards
100 yards 2,100-2,300 yards

In my view the numbers on this chart are perhaps a bit conservative as my experience has been that a golfer who drives the ball around 250 yards can quite comfortably play a course significantly longer than 6400 yards.

A recent survey of golfers who participated in the Tee It Forwards  program showed that:

  • 56 percent played faster
  • 56 percent are likely to play golf more often
  • 83 percent hit more-lofted clubs into greens
  • 85 percent had more fun
  • 93 percent will TEE IT FORWARD again

So, unless you still harbor aspirations of playing on the tour,  for goodness sake play the tees that are right for you, so that the rest of us can play in fours hours and be home in time for supper.  And you don’t have to go home and kick the dog.

Temporary Rules

A friend recently sent me a set of Temporary Rules apparently instituted by the Richmond Golf Club just outside London England in 1940.  These rules were  put in placed to deal with member safety during the German bombing raids and the resulting havoc they wreaked on the  golf course.


My naturally inquisitive nature led me to see if these rules were authentic or if they were just another ‘urban myth’.


There is indeed a Richmond Golf Club in Surrey, UK

This link will take you to their website.  The ‘temporary rules’ can be found under the History section on the site.  It mentions that these rules were referred to by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister during a wartime broadcast and includes this excerpt:

By means of these ridiculous reforms the English snobs try to impress the people with a kind of pretended heroism. They can do so without danger, because, as everyone knows, the German Air Force devotes itself only to the destruction of military targets and objectives of importance to the war effort.”

It makes you realize:

1  The conditions were play under are pretty benign; and

2.  the Brits were sticklers for rules, I mean, one stroke penalty if your stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb.  Really?


Addendum  (November 24, 2015)

I had also emailed the Richmond Golf Club regarding the ‘temporary rules’ and this morning I got the following reply:

Dear Menno, 

Many thanks for your enquiry re the ‘wartime rules’ associated with this Club.  They are indeed genuine and are displayed in our Member’s Bar for all to see, apparently Lord Haw Haw himself referred to the ‘Englishmen’ and Rules personally in one of his infamous broadcasts.



John R Maguire

General Manager

The Richmond Golf Club