The first time I encountered the situation was in Thailand. Stretched out along the elongated first tee at a sultry Black Mountain course near Hua Hin was a series of tee markers just like anywhere else. Except these were different.
There was no reference to colour nor words like “championship”, “Tiger”, “members”, “social” or any other term commonly used to delineate sets of tee markers. Instead, the various course lengths were labelled by their Slope rating. It was so practical and simple and yet also so ingenious. There was no stigma attached to which tees were appropriate for which golfers; instead, it was all down to numerics and personal choice.
You might have noticed there was one common descriptor I omitted. There’s a reason for that. The term “ladies tees” needs instant retirement. The positioning of tees supposedly intended for female golfers is often an afterthought in golf-course design and I suspect the notion of labelling them such falls into the same department. But in truth there are female golfers perfectly capable of playing from sets of tees behind the so-called ladies tees, while there are absolutely male golfers who should move forward a set or two.
And if they weren’t called ladies tees, more blokes would probably feel less of an ego-hit by starting from further forward.
Tee markers are a choice and should remain openly so. At one club where I used to be a member, I was once asked not to play from the blue members’ tees one quiet Friday afternoon. The Monthly Medal was the next day and I wanted to play the course from the same length I would find it 24 hours later. “All social play – even by members – needs to be from the white markers,” I was told by the staff member dashing out from the pro shop. Why have the blue markers out then? If a tee needed to be rested from golfer traffic or wear and tear, then that would be fair enough. But the markers were there, so the course staff clearly didn’t see an issue. Needless to say, from the second hole onwards, back I went to the blues.
At Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm, the various tee markers are placed with recommendations for different handicaps. But they are just that: a recommendation. The choice is ultimately the golfer’s to make.
And outside competition rounds, it often makes sense to mix up the tees we play from. Course staff often place tee markers and change pin positions before the conditions are known or felt – or the weather switches. In a windy location like Barnbougle, the two courses are often best experienced from forward tees into the wind and farther back when the wind is helping.
Golfers should retain that right to choose and not be instructed where to play non-competitive rounds from. But in the same breath, a hefty dose of realism needs to come into play from golfers themselves. Too many choose tees unmatched to their ability level. Likewise, one of the great benefits of the Slope system is flexibility between sets of tees, so there should be no shame attached to golfers in the same foursome playing from different markers.
And a big part of that begins with banishing the very notion of tee markers intended for female play alone.
This month marks the first time since 2004 that February’s leap day falls on a weekend. While the 29th might not feel like a true extra day, it does officially extend summer by a day. So why not dedicate the additional 24 hours to golf by gathering some mates and making a full day of the bonus day? You might even be able to farewell summer with a memorable 36-hole-a-thon.