Which Tees Should You Play?

by Chris Mile, President of Miles of Golf on May 23, 2010

By Chris Mile

I have wanted to tackle this question for sometime because it is a real big deal, and I have seen some half baked answers to this question.      In my book, every golfer should have the opportunity to hit par threes in one shot, par fours in two, and par fives in three.  If this is not possible, you are playing a course that is too long, and if you play a course that is too long or too short, you will not get the joy you should from the game.

Computing Your Ideal Course Distance. The answer to the question of how long a course should be for you is real simple.  It is  28.  Just multiply the length of a well hit drive for you by 28 and that, in my estimation, is the length of a course that will be challenging but enjoyable to play.

The logic behind the “Driver x 28” is that an ideal course will have a combination of easy, moderately difficult, and difficult holes.  Knowing the length of your drive, you can estimate how far you hit your other clubs.  For example, most golfers will hit their 6 iron 64% of the distance of their driver.  If a medium distance par 4 is a drive and #6 iron, you know the length of a good par four for you is 164% of the distance of your drive.  Having this information plus definitions for short, medium, and long holes, you can compute the total distance for an ideal course for you based upon your driving distance.

Now the only thing you need to know is the distance of your well hit tee shots.  This is a more difficult question than you might think, and as a clue, most of us overestimate.  To get a real accurate estimate, you can have the TrackMan radar units at our range measure your drives.  They are accurate to within 1 foot for every 100 yards.

How “Driver x 28” Was Created. We need to know only two things to create an ideal course length.  (1) We need to know how far you hit each club in your bag and (2) we need to define what clubs you hit into each hole on the mythical ideal course.  Both of these are a lot easier than you would expect!

#1.  Determine How Far You Hit All Your Clubs. By knowing how far you hit your driver, we have good data to predict how far you will hit all the clubs in your bag.  Obviously this will not be exact for each golfer, but it will be close.  The hardest part of this is to have a good estimate of your total driver distance for a well struck driver.

The chart below tells how far a typical player hits each club relative to their driving distance.  This information is from a TrackMan analysis of the PGA and LPGA tours.   You can see the distance for each club as a percent of the driver distance below:

Club Distance as a Percent of Driver Distance.

PGA Tour pct of LPGA Tour pct of Tour Averages
driver driver
driver 296 246
3w 260 0.88 218 0.89 0.88
5w 242 0.82 200 0.81 0.82
7w 186 0.76 0.76
hyb 237 0.80 0.80
3 220 0.74 0.74
4 209 0.71 180 0.73 0.72
5 198 0.67 170 0.69 0.68
6 185 0.63 159 0.65 0.64
7 177 0.60 147 0.60 0.60
8 162 0.55 135 0.55 0.55
9 149 0.50 123 0.50 0.50
pw 137 0.46 109 0.44 0.45

#2.  Designing an Enjoyable Golf Course. My definition of a course that is fun to play will have a combination of short, medium, and long holes.  For example, since the average course has 4 par three holes, one should be easy, 2 moderately difficult, and one hard.  There are generally 4 par fives so the same logic applies to par 5s.  There are usually 10 par fours so I am saying there are 3 easy, 4 average, and 3 hard par fours.  This course should make you hit a lot of different clubs which is usually a definition of a good golf course.

#3.  Compute the Distance of the Ideal Course. I am arbitrarily defining short, medium and long holes.  For example, my definition of a medium length par five is a driver, #3 fairway, and pitching wedge.  I am saying a medium length par 4 is a driver and 6 iron.  We need to do this for each hole; namely decide what approach shots we want to hit into each category of hole.  So to compute the distance of a medium length par five relative to your driver distance the math looks like this:

Medium Length Par Five

Driver                                    1.00

#3 Fairway                          .88

Pitching Wedge                .45

Total                                      2.33

If your average drive is 200, a moderate par five distance is 466 yards. (2.33 x 200 yards).  Carry this same logic for each hole and you come up with a distance of (driver distance x 28) for an ideal course length.

Driver x 28 Computation

Par Difficulty Club Selection % of Driver # per Round Total % of Driver
3 short 9 iron 0.5 1 0.5
3 medium 6 iron 0.67 2 1.34
3 long 3 iron 0.74 1 0.74
4 short driver + 9 iron 1.5 3 4.5
4 medium driver + 6 iron 1.64 4 6.56
4 long driver + 3 iron 1.74 3 5.22
5 short driver + 3 fairway 1.88 1 1.88
5 medium driver + 3 fairway + PW 2.37 2 4.74
5 long driver + 3 fairway + 6ir 2.52 1 2.52
total 18 28
Driving Distance 150 175 200 225 250 275
Course Distance


4900 5600 6300 7000 7700

Questions regarding “Driver x 28”:

  1. What if there is not a set of tees that correspond with my ideal yardage? First of all, don’t expect that you will be able to match the yardage number exactly.  If you are close, within 5%, that should work out fine.  Also, there is nothing wrong with making up your own course.  Your course me be comprised of holes using different tees.  Your objective should be to play holes that always give you the possibility of hitting each green in regulation (1 for par threes, 2 for par fours, and 3 for par fives).  The only downside to making up your own course is that you will not have a course rating for handicapping.
  2. What if everyone else in my group is playing from different tees than me? Hold your ground.  Everyone will have more fun if you play the proper tees.  Nobody likes to play with a frustrated playing partner.  If you are wagering, the handicap system accommodates players using different tees, so if you are playing a shorter course, you will receive fewer shots.
  3. Shouldn’t the length of the course be adjusted by your handicap? NO.   There are loads of examples of high handicap golfers who can hit it a ton.  Are they going to like playing a real short course?  The same for a low handicap golfer who is a short hitter.  Will he or she enjoy hitting fairway woods into most par fours?
  4. I don’t agree with your definition of an ideal course. You could disagree with this definition and create your own ideal course or adjust for a course that is not a par 72 course.  You will have to rework the numbers, but you have all the information you need to make this adjustment.
  5. How well will the “driver x 28” system work for the real long hitter? At the extremes, the formula does not work primarily because there are no courses built for the extremes.  For a 300 yard hitter, you need a course of 8,400 yds.  You could make a good argument that golf for a 300 yard hitter is not as much fun as for the rest of us because all they are hitting is driver and short irons.  It is not quite as bad as this because a 300 yard hitter will not hit his driver very often because it will go through a dog leg or simply just run out of space in the fairway to hit a driver.
  6. How well will the “driver x 28” system work for the real short hitter? For really short hitters, there is a tendency for all the clubs to go the same distance.  This probably means that the ideal course will have holes of approximately the same distance for all the par 3s, approximately the same for all the par 4s, and all the par 5s.  For a 100yd hitter, the par 3s would be approximately 100 yds; par 4s, 200 yds; and par 5s, 300 yds.

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