After decades of making golf courses longer, designers have lined up to reverse the trend. The effort comes in the form of a working alliance between the American Society of Golf Course Architects and the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation, the charitable arm of U.S. Kids Golf, which markets junior golf equipment and training.
The new program, called the Longleaf Tee Initiative, is intended to help make golf more fun, inclusive and attuned to the performance characteristics of those who play the game. Announcement of the program came at the annual trade show of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America on Feb. 8 in Orlando.
This wasn’t just some industry manifesto. Work has been underway, as architect Bill Bergin showcased in a talk about what he’s been doing at Longleaf Golf & Family Club in Southern Pines, N.C., a course owned by U.S. Kids Golf and home to its national championship.
The basis of the teeing system is color-coded distance variation keyed to overall driving distance (see above graphic). Players can take the measure of the drives at the range before the round, then opt for one of as many as seven markers on the course.
These are fully differentiated teeing grounds, not just disks on the course. At 18-hole, par-71 Longleaf, they run the gamut from blue markers at 3,241 yards up to 6,602 yards from the back (red) tees. Seven color-coded teeing grounds are available, spaced at 500-600 yard intervals, to cover all skill levels.
Players select the tees appropriate for their game on the basis of color-coded poles at the driving range, set 25 yards apart so players can readily determine their actual distance, as distinguished from the one they think they can reach.
The forward blue tees are recommended for those who carry the ball 100 yards and get an additional 25 yards of roll. Each 25-yard increment of carry and total distance merits playing from one tee further back.
The gold tees (3,719 yards) are for those who carry their drive 125 yards and achieve 150 yards total. Green, orange, white, purple and red follow accordingly, with the 6,602-yard back tees appropriate for those who carry it 250 yards plus an additional 20-25 yards of roll.
In the interest of equity, all tees carry an index and rating for both men and women. Players who carry the ball 275 yards and achieve 295 yards total distance off the tee are advised to play a course in the 7,400-yard range.
Distance allocations are based on raw data gathered by U.S. Kids Golf president and founder Dan van Horn in collaboration with Bridgestone Golf. Bergin converted that data into specific yardages.
Bergin, 58, played the PGA Tour in the mid-1980s, then became a teaching pro at Cherokee Town & Country Club in Atlanta before becoming a course architect. His experience teaching everyday golfers revealed to him how wide the spectrum of actual play was. That not only influenced his subsequent design work but also helped him appreciate the importance of what U.S. Kids Golf was doing to promote what Van Horn calls “excellence at any age.”
The goal, said Bergin, “is trying to eliminate irrelevant shots. Everyday golfers hit shots all the time that don’t matter. We’re trying to reduce them.”
Bergin places tees well forward of where most architects have located them. That includes two or three sets – depending upon the hole configuration – in the fairway itself. “It’s not enough to get players to land in the same area,” Bergin said. “Even then, they’d be hitting vastly different clubs to the green. We have to get the more forward-tee players way ahead of the mid- and back-tee players for them to be hitting comparable clubs.”
Construction costs for outfitting Longleaf came to $195,000. The costs elsewhere would vary.
Bergin is including a version of the Longleaf Tee Initiative at two other course renovations on the drawing board. Meanwhile, Rees Jones is undertaking a similar program at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club’s No. 2 Course.