by Chris Mile
Choosing the right tees has a huge impact on how much you will enjoy golf. Many attempts at answering this question are not based upon any theory but just based upon someone’s recommendation. There is a logical way to determine which tees you should play.
Golf courses are designed so that 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. Likewise, if you seldom hit the longer clubs, you are playing a course that is too short. 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 quite simple. It is “28”. Just multiply the length of a well-hit drive by 28 and that is the length of a course that will be challenging but enjoyable to play. For example, if a good drive for you is 200, the recommended course length would be 5,600 yards (28 x 200).
The logic behind the “Driver x 28” theory 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 six iron 64% of the distance of their driver. If a medium distance par 4 is a drive and six iron, you know the length of a good par four for you is 164% of the distance of your drive. In the same example of a person who hits a drive 200 yards, a hole that is a drive and six iron would be 328 yards (200 x 1.64). 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.
It is important to note that for really long or really short hitters, the “Driver x 28” theory breaks down. For really long drivers, no courses are long enough for them to use all their clubs. This is very evident when you watch tour players. The only holes that they use their longer clubs for second shots are par 5s. For short hitters, there is only a very small distance gap between clubs; all their full shots go nearly the same distance. For someone who drives the ball over 267 yards, play the back tees. For someone who drives the ball less than 150 yards, play the forward tees or par 3 “executive” courses.
There are other factors that enter into the right tees for you, such as consistency and shot dispersion, but “Driver x 28” is a good starting point for most of us. 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 an accurate estimate, a number of driving ranges are installing Toptracer technology. A range with Toptracer measures every shot you hit. It is the same technology you see on televised pro tournaments that shows you the flight of the ball and distances. Both Miles of Golf ranges, in Ann Arbor and Cincinnati, have Toptracer. My recommendation is to hit ten drives, take the average of the best five, and use that as your driving distance.
If you want to check out the details how the “Driver x 28” theory was formulated, go to the Miles of Golf Blog. It addresses questions like playing in a group when players play from different tees. There are also a number of posts from golfers about “Driver x 28”.
How “Driver x 28” Was Created. We need to know only two things to create an ideal course length. First you need to know how far you hit each club in your bag, and second, determine what clubs you hit on each hole on the ideal mythical course. Getting 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. This will not be exact for each golfer, but it will be close.
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 | ||
driver | driver | ||||
driver | 296 | 246 | |||
3w | 260 | 0.88 | 218 | 0.89 | |
5w | 242 | 0.82 | 200 | 0.81 | |
7w | 186 | 0.76 | |||
hyb | 237 | 0.80 | |||
3 | 220 | 0.74 | |||
4 | 209 | 0.71 | 180 | 0.73 | |
5 | 198 | 0.67 | 170 | 0.69 | |
6 | 185 | 0.63 | 159 | 0.65 | |
7 | 177 | 0.60 | 147 | 0.60 | |
8 | 162 | 0.55 | 135 | 0.55 | |
9 | 149 | 0.50 | 123 | 0.50 | |
pw | 137 | 0.46 | 109 | 0.44 |
With access to Toptracer or other devices that can easily measure how far you hit each club, you do not need to estimate how far you hit each club relative to your driver. You can just measure how far each club goes and use the actual data for each club to determine the length of your ideal golf course.
#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 four par 3 holes, one should be easy, 2 moderately difficult, and one hard. There are generally four par 5’s, so the same logic applies. There are usually ten par 4’s, so I am saying there are three easy, four average, and three hard. This course should make you hit a variety of clubs for the approach to the green, which is, I believe, a desirable feature 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 5 is a driver, then a fairway metal, and a pitching wedge approach. I am saying a medium length par 4 is a driver and six iron. We need to do this for each hole; namely decide what approach shots we want to hit into each category of hole. To compute the distance of a medium length par 5 relative to your driver distance, the math looks like this:
Medium Length Par 5
Driver 1.00
#3 Fairway 0.88
Pitching Wedge 0.45
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 the result is an ideal course length of “Driver x 28”.
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”:
- 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 just fine. Also, there is nothing wrong with making up your own course. Your course may be comprised of holes using different tee boxes. Your objective should be to play holes that always give you the possibility of hitting each green in regulation (one stroke for par 3’s, two for par 4’s, and three for par 5’s). The only downside to making up your own course is that you will not have a course rating for handicapping.
- What if everyone else in my group is playing from different tees than me? Hold your ground. Everyone will have more fun if you each 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.
- Shouldn’t the length of the course you play be determined by your handicap? 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 is true for low handicap golfers who are short hitters. Will they enjoy hitting fairway woods into most par fours? That being said, players who are inconsistent will probably get more enjoyment by erring on the short side in picking the tees they play.
- 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 of 72. You will have to rework the numbers, but you have all the information you need to make this adjustment.
- 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. A 300-yard driver needs a course of 8,400 yards. You could make a good argument that golf for a 300-yard bomber 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 driver very often because the ball will go through a dogleg or simply just run out of space in the fairway to hit a driver.
- 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 3’s, approximately the same for all the par 4’s, and all the par 5’s. For a 100-yard hitter, the par 3s would be approximately 100 yds; par 4s, 200 yds; and par 5s, 300 yds.