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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
Examples:
Driving Distance 150 175 200 225 250 275
Course Distance

4200

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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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Glenn Nelson May 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Chris – I’m so glad you’ve tackled this subject and defined the way ahead to help those of us that never were able, or are no longer able, to overpower a golf course. The problem of tee selection has been creeping up on me for the past 15 years (I’m now 78), but the “Driver X 28″ gives me the comfort of knowing that the subject now has been credibly addressed. My much younger and stronger playing partners will now understand and, I believe, will accept my move up on the tees in our games. And as you stated, this will allow me to enjoy the game more in the future.
Thanks for this great innovation!!!!!!

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Steve Roberts May 25, 2010 at 9:53 am

Chris,
The 28 times model doesn’t seem to work for women even though it probably should. The average amature woman’s drive I understand is 140 yards. Therefore 28 X 140 is 3920. This short of a course does not seem to be available or probably acceptable to the average woman player.

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debby stroman September 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I heard 5-iron distance times 36. e.g. 150 x 36 = 5400 yards. Nice model to propose to men. Women are so tired of men stepping back to the other tee boxes and watching them suffer. :)

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Joe Perez February 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm

For a long while the idea of playing from proper tees has been a pet peeve of mine. Why anyone would torture themselves by playing a course where they are out of their league relative to distance is beyond me. I’ve played with high double-digits who insist on playing back tees and seniors who insist on playing the same tees they played in their prime (I’m 52). It’s all about the ego.

Bradley S. Klein of Golfweek magazine addressed this issue about a year ago, and it seems that there is a “magic number” of 6000 yds, which men will not cross under when selecting the tees they want to play from. But of course length alone does not correspond to difficulty.

In Myrtle Beach I like to play at the courses at Barefoot Resort. There are four, designed by Pete Dye, Davis Love II, Tom Fazio and Greg Norman. All the courses have five sets of tees. At two of those courses, the Norman and Fazio, the distances/ratings from the middle (of 5) tees are about 57-5800 yds, with slopes around 115-117. Only ONE tee box back, the distances at both courses increase by around 700 yards, and the slope rating rockets up to 133. First time on Fazio I played those longer tees because the two younger guys I was paired with played them. It was a nightmare. I later played alone, moved up, and had a great time, if not a great score. Those were the tees that “fit” me.

Most of the complaints I hear from players who refuse to move up is that the course is now a pushover. Never mind that from the longer tee they end up at the end of the day coughing up blood all over their scorecard. If a course is properly designed so that hazards are “in play” regardless of the tees you play from, a course can be challenging from any set of tees.

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Bob Jones March 2, 2011 at 7:33 am

Good idea, but the factor of 28 is too high. I took the avg. course length on the PGA (7,200) and LPGA tours (6,500) and divided by the average driving distance (294 and 246, from Trackman) and got 24.5 and 26.5, respectively. Make that 25.5 for recreational golfers.

A man who drives 230 on avg. (which is pretty good) should play a course of ~5,900 yards. A woman who can drive 190 should play a course measuring ~4,800 yards (and good luck finding red tees that short).

One course I play is 5,917 for the whites and I’ve broken 80 four times on it in the last three years. The other course I play often is 6,402 from the whites and I’ve broken 80 there once.

Your point is so vital, though. We’re just out there to have fun. Why should give ourselves a distance handicap the the best golfers in the world don’t have?

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JIM N LUPINETTI June 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I THINK YOUR ESTIMATE OF 28X IS VERY REALISTIC FOR HAVING AN ENJOYABLE ROUND OF GOLF!!!

THANKS MUCH,
JIM

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Dennis Harrold June 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Great idea, but the yardage is too long in my opinion unless you use the result as the MAXIMUM yardage for a par 72. Also, deduct one 5 iron or 5H distance for each stroke under a par of 72. For a golfer who averages 235 and hits their 5-thing 170, that would be a limit of 6580, 6410 or 6240 yards for par 72, 71 and 70 courses.
The concept of matching tees to distance is a good idea that I hope catches on. It is an issue for me, age 67 and a short hitting 6 but finding I have more fun from the whites these days. When the course is too long it’s like your constantly playing uphill and putting for pars.
The method that Debby mentioned appeared in Stina Sternberg’s column, multiplying the distance of your 5 thing by 36. As above, deduct one club or two for par 71 and 70′s (multiply by 35 or 34). It doesn’t take long to run through the courses you play frequently and figure which tees to play from.

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Patrick Sweeney June 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Come on Jim. I am 17 and hit my driver about 270 yards. According to your driverX28 system, I should be playing a yardage of 7560 yards (longer than almost every pga course). Also, your idea states that a player who hits it 296, what you posted as the average pga drive, should play from 8288 yards. Where are you, in la-la land? I understand what your trying to get at but come on, I think 26 is a much bettter estimate. Basically by using this you are criticizing the usga of handing tour players courses that are 1000 yards too short. Give me a break.

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Chris Mile June 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

Patrick, If you go through the logic of the driver x 28 formula, I think you will find that most courses for you and PGA pros make par fours a drive and short iron game and there are no three shot par fives. If you played a course with par 4s that made you hit long and medium irons, it would be a very long course. What happens on a lot of courses, you run out of fairway on doglegs or just fairway space when you hit is so far so often you and the pros end up hitting fairway or irons off the tee. Be sure to go through the logic of the formula. If you do I think you will find it hard to argue that it works for the majority of golfers, but there is no denying that at the fringes for real long hitters and for real short hitters there are just not courses to occomodate them.

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Gary Landon June 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Interesting discussion. I did the math on my driver distance x28 and 5 iron distance x36. I’m 50 and carry a 2-3 handicap, hit my driver (carry plus roll) typically 250-260 and 5 iron about 180. This translates to 7000 or about 6500 yards. I personally find I tend to enjoy courses the most that are somewhere between the two distances so depending on the layout I can see either number working (how often do you have to lay up off the tee, how many holes play significantly uphill or downhill), weather (cold? wet or firm fairways? sea level or some elevation?). I’d say the driver x28 is a reasonable indication of the MAX distance you should play, and the 5 iron x 36 more an indication of the MINIMUM distance. I totally agree with the statements that a player should play from tees that let them have chance to reach the greens in regulation with ‘decent’ tee shots. At my home club – one course is 6800 from the tips and I don’t really enjoy playing it from one set up (6300) that much – short iron after short iron if I play well. The other is just over 7000 from the tips and 6600 from one set up – I tend to play the tips when the conditions are good (not when it’s wet/cold/etc) and one set up probably 2/3 of the time. Sometimes I do play courses closer to 6200-6300 (and may only have more than 9 iron into 1/3 of the holes in regulation), and while it’s fun for a change, I definitely would not enjoy playing as much if I did it regularly. These are good formulas to use with people I play with (to get them on the right tee!) … probably break down at the extremes. Well thought out article.

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Duane Shore November 22, 2011 at 10:33 am

C’mon Mr. Mile…I’m willing to bet my putter that if you and I (and two of your buddies) were to play a round of golf where each of us was using whatever tee-box we wanted, Ranger Rick would be all over us, telling us to “pick up the pace”. I constantly get reamed by my golf buddies for even THINKING about playing the tips while they are up at the whites! Not only would your strategy slow down the round (which you well know is one of the major problems of today’s golf), but I’m certain it would be one of the least enjoyable rounds we ever played! The only thing I can think of that would destroy the rythm-of-a-round more than your strategy is to have a beverage cart on every hole…but then again, I doubt any of my buddies would mind that! :-) Grand Rapids Golf Examiner, Duane Shore

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Chris Mile November 25, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Duane,

What kind of putter do you have because I think I want that bet. I play all the time with golfers playing different tees and have literally never experience a problem with upset rangers. Do you ever play with women golfers? Do you play the same tees? I think I would take an upset ranger over an upset woman.

I personally dislike playing in a group when there is a huge disparity in driver distances. I find that a much bigger distraction that starting the hole from different tees. In addition, it’s embarrassing for the short driver and frustrating for the long hitter.

Just try playing in a group using driver times 28, and if a ranger gives you a bad time, tell me where to send my putter. Otherwise, you can send yours to Miles of Golf, 3113 Carpenter Rd., Ypsilanti, MI. By the way I know a great golf shop you can buy a new one.

Chris

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Bogie April 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm

No disrespect intended, but this method simply does not make good sense. You’re suggesting that someone who hits a 250 yard drive should play a 7,000 yard course…..and enjoy it. Not likely to happen. Also, this would mean the pros should be playing 8,400 yard courses…..and enjoying it. Not likely to happen.

A BETTER METHOD (for a Par 72 course):
your typical 5-iron distance X 36
For a many pros…200 X 36 = 7,200
For many amateurs…175 X 36 = 6,300

Ideally, to score “par” on a standard Par-72 course, you should hit every fairway and every green in regulation, then 2-putt every green. This leaves 36 shots from tee to green. That’s where the “36″ in my formula comes from. In other words…for a Par-71 course, multiply times 35…for a Par-70, multiply times 34…etc.

For heaven’s sake, PLEASE don’t suggest that amateurs should play from tees that are WAY to long. It already takes 4+ hours to play a round of golf on any given Saturday. Using your method, it would likely take 6 hours to play a round of golf, and NOBODY would break 140! ;)

bogie

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Chris Mile, President of Miles of Golf January 9, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Bogie,

It does not matter what club you use to make a yardage index, but I question your index of 36 for a 5 iron. I think it makes courses too short for most players. I think 7,200 for the pros is pretty much drive and wedge on every hole. If you truly want the pros to hit every club in the bag, you are right the course gets very long. Fact is they do not hit every club in the bag and I feel that is unfortunate for the game. The data we have says someone who hits a 5 iron 175 yards will on average hit their driver 261 yards. A 6,300 yard course in my mind is way to short to be enjoyable.

Chris Mile

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Keith Orloff May 29, 2012 at 6:02 am

I am an aging hacker (late ’60′s). Driver distance 205-210 with a driver that was fitted to me. I’m not going to get much longer/ Over the past several years I have watched my handicap grow. Most of that was terrible short game, but I also noticed how many times I was overswinging, trying to each greens with fairway woods. I was constantly in the 90′s when I used to be comfortably in the mid-80′s. Recently I played a course at 5,100 yards instead of the more common 6,200-6,400 range. I shot 80 including a couple of penalties. What an exhilarating feeling! Based on that experience, I strongly support the driver x 28 concept. It’s bringing back the fun for me.

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Chris Mile September 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Keith, There is another article on our blog that I think you would enjoy. It is called “Confessions of an Aging Golfer”. I too enjoy playing a lot more when I do not feel like I have to hit a home run on each hole to reach a green in regulation.

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rhettshields January 9, 2013 at 11:51 am

I”m taking my wife to one of the golf courses in Calgary on Saturday and she is not to excited! I of course need to impress her and show her how fun golf really is. Great post, I enjoyed the read.

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