Women’s Tees: Twelve Tips for Superintendents, Greens Committees, Women Golfers and Golf Course Owners
By Kari Haug, EIGCA Associate Member
Over the years, I have often heard my women golfing partners comment about the poor condition of our teeing grounds. The dismay usually is related to an excessively offset tee that is small in size, has a poor angle to the landing area in the fairway, has poor turf conditions, or simply sets the hole up to play too long. While we know there are many really great superintendents caring for our courses, sometimes the women’s tees are overlooked. These tips are intended to be a hopeful reminder to help golf course management make improvements that will produce a better golf experience for women.
- Location, location, location. In addition to simply being poor golf course design, a tee that is offset excessively to the far edge of the fairway is offensive to women. In a game that is loaded with psychological nuances, a tee that is pushed off to the side (often with an incorrect angle and/or distance to the landing area) is a dismissive non-verbal message that pushes women to the side in more ways than just physical location. It also sets us up for failure on the golf course, making the game much more difficult than it would be if the teeing grounds were properly designed. While some offset might be appropriate in some cases, extremely offset tees should be corrected as soon as economically feasible.
- Size matters. The teeing ground is where everyone is supposed to get an equal footing to start each hole, equally maintained, leveled, and appropriately sized. A teeing area that is too small limits choices for tee shot set up and limits turf recovery from wear and tear. This is not the intended starting condition for a golf hole. Since more divots are taken on the teeing ground on a par 3, a larger tee size is required for turf recovery than the tee size on par 4’s and 5’s. Women’s tees have historically been underbuilt, and are in critical need of expansion in many cases. A larger tee will increase choice in regard to finding a level stance, setting up a tee shot, will facilitate mowing, and will allow for turf recovery and improved turf health on the teeing grounds.
- Do you see what I see? Elevated tees are more important for women than men since we are on the average about five to six inches shorter than men. The visibility of golf hazards that stir emotions is just one of the psychological attractions of the game of golf. Unfortunately, the forward tee is frequently located downhill from an elevated back tee, diminishing a thrilling view or visual access to the hazards that lie ahead. An unseen hazard does not stir the emotions like a visible one. This robs women of some of the excitement of playing the game and may be just one element that contributes to the high attrition rate among women golfers. The solution: elevate the forward tees as much as possible while still harmoniously integrating them into the landscape. This may mean choosing a tee location at a higher elevation or disturbing more area during construction of the tee, but it will be worth the effort for the women. Not only does elevation affect visibility, so does lateral location (offset) of the tee. Make sure the driving angle allows clear visibility to the intended landing area for both right and left-handed golfers.
- Add sunlight, then water and drain well. Tees that are located way off to the side of the fairway are often plagued by overhanging tree limbs that block sunlight to the grass which impairs the health of the turf on the tee surface. Tree limbs also block shots, visibility, or otherwise limit access to the fairway. Think about your left-handed women as well as your right-handers. Please contact your forestry service, or better yet, re-build those tees in a better location. Additionally, women’s tees historically were sometimes constructed in the “push-up” style, meaning the native soil was pushed up, leveled off and turfed with minimal irrigation or drainage installation. A worse situation is where tees were simply mowed into the fairway. These types of tees are very difficult to maintain to standards equal to the back tees. New forward tees should be “constructed” with appropriate soil, turf, and sufficient irrigation and drainage. They should not just be pushed-up or worse, simply mowed into the fairway. A temporary tee will get you temporary members and dissatisfied women golfers.
- Hire a qualified EIGCA or ASGCA architect. In-house construction/building of a tee is quite possible, but in-house design is sometimes a disaster. In-house design choices made by superintendents, course owners, the club pro, or women’s club members are often regretted. Professional tee design is not expensive and well worth the money in the long run when done by designers who thoughtfully consider play from the women’s tees.
- Gimme a break (please?) Benches, ball washers, hole signs, and trashcans are generally standard equipment on most tees, however, when women’s tees are located moderately ahead of the men’s tees, there is rarely a bench in sight. With a little design creativity, these on-course amenities can be easily integrated in a minimalist manner in order to preserve harmonious views from the back tees. Amenities are not needed on every tee, but a few rest areas would be greatly appreciated. On the other side of this coin are the amenities that crowd the tee. Just because amenities are requested, that doesn’t mean we want the bench and the ball washer on the tee or crowding what little space we have.
- Ensure a proper angle to the landing area. Proper angles are particularly important on dogleg holes. Hint: The inside of the dogleg is usually not the correct angle to the landing area. The golf course architect can help to ensure proper angles and distances to landing areas such that women are not hitting through fairways, blocked from making shots, or forced to negotiate a larger portion of a hazard than the men from the men’s tees. Improper angles and distances to dogleg turning points often make the game much more difficult for women. Also, angles play a significant role in the direction a ball will roll if a drive lands on a hillside with a glancing angle versus a shot that lands on the hillside straight away. Drives from the women’s tee that end up in the same lousy long rough every time probably have an improper driving angle or poorly designed mowing pattern.
- How far is too far? Forced carries (including over long rough) can exhilarate or deflate a golfer when they step onto the tee. Indeed, one of the compelling attractions of the game of golf is the challenge presented by hazards that need to be carried, but if the carry distance is insurmountable, it only deflates the sense of wellbeing that is found by golfers on the course. Instead of a forced carry, a better hazard type from the most forward tee would be a “strategic hazard” design, which allows the golfer to decide how much of the hazard they can carry. This type of hazard is much more playable than a “forced” carry for high handicappers. If there is a graduated second tee in place for women who have a low handicap, a surmountable forced carry is appropriate.
- Can we level the playing field? It is often difficult to find a level area in order to take a stance and address the ball on the women’s tee. Sometimes one large irrigation head is in the middle of a very small tee making it difficult to set up a clear teeing area for tournament play, or just to find a level stance when playing for fun. On some tees, the entire tee is moderately sloped. This is particularly bad when it is back to front, setting up a downhill lie on a tee shot. Also as tees age, they settle and get lumpy. Many women’s tees were built 30 years ago and have not been renovated…maybe it is time?
- Is your course too long? Decades ago, famed golf course architect Alice Dye published tee design guidelines for a “Two Tee System for Women.” In order for courses to be manageable for the average woman golfer, Mrs. Dye recommended that a course should play 4,800 – 5,200 yards. In a recent Minnesota study, only approximately fifty percent (50%) of the courses sampled had a tee built at this recommended distance. Furthermore, when a women’s tee was built, only one was built. To this day, most courses still play too long for the average woman golfer. No wonder the game seems so difficult.
- Equity please – three would be great, but two will do. As indicated above, Mrs. Dye recommended that the women’s tee system include two (2) tees, similar to the teeing grounds for the men. The Minnesota study referenced above found that only approximately twenty percent (20%) of the time, a second tee was built at an appropriate distance for women. Unlike the men’s tees that usually provide three choices in course length, women continue to have limited choice with only one tee. Furthermore, the study found the average distance between the women’s tee and the first men’s tee (the next tee choice) was approximately 940 yards. This jump in distance is too far for women to work on graduated distance challenges that will improve their game. When women’s games improve such that they start hitting drives through fairways or beyond landing areas, a second tee or even a third tee is needed. Imagine where women’s golf could be today if the tees had been built to Ms. Dye’s recommendations years ago.
- Tokenism? – No thank you. Not only do women need to be at the decision-making table, but we also need to have a voice in making the decisions. When planning a women’s tee design and renovation or new installation project, make sure your women’s clubs are well represented on the design committee and/or greens committee. Women need to step up and take part in course renovations or new design activities. Representative participation will enhance the process and outcome of the project. Women need to have a bigger voice in the game if the game is to grow and be sustainable for years to come.
This article was originally published in Golf Course Management March 2014.
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Copyright© 2013 by Kari Haug – Kari Haug Golf Course Architecture – www.karihaug.com