Mixed tee competition

I played a competition from the forward tees – here’s what happened

Steve Carroll has often wondered if moving up would help or hinder him. So when his club held a mixed-tee tournament trial, he decided to find out

I have long prattled on to anyone who’ll listen that in competitions golfers are often forced to play a course that’s too long.

We trudge off to the very limits, slap it around in increasing exasperation for 18 holes, and then many of us gather in the clubhouse to mourn and moan about what an awful round we’ve had.

There’s company in misery, of course, and I often think golfers are sadists – why else would we play a game that’s so difficult and unconquerable?

But when my home club, York, organised a men’s mixed-tee competition trial, where we could pick whether to go from the whites, yellows, or reds, and play in the same competition, I put my theory to the test.

In the interests of science dear reader, I played from the forward tees to see what difference it would make to my game and whether it might do the same for you too.

So let’s get stuck in to some of the various facets and, importantly, reveal what happened out on the course!

Tale of the tape

A par 70, York weighs in at 6,367 yards off the white tees, with a course rating of 70.6 and a slope rating of 128. The club have had all tees – white, yellow, and red – rated for both men and women.

From the reds, the layout slims down to 5,645 yards with a course rating of 67.1 and a slope of 119.

There’s 722 yards difference but that’s not the only material alteration. The 3rd hole, a par 5 for men from the back tees at 513 yards, becomes a par 4 off the forward tees at 428 yards – making an overall men’s par of 69.

Which tee to choose?

There’s a lot to think about here so let’s run through some of the determinations. On the one hand, 722 yards is quite a difference – it’s basically two par 4s – so if you’re a shorter hitter like me that’s a serious consideration.

My WHS index of 9.4 converted into a Course and Playing Handicap of 10 but, and this was a big factor for many in the overall field, the rules of handicapping increase the Playing Handicaps of players who decide to go from the longer tees. This is because of the difference between the number of points required to play to handicap.

If you played off yellows, you’d get two extra strokes compared to those playing from the reds and it’s three shots for those who stayed with the whites.

Here’s how the club worked out the maths for those of you with the mind for it…

Red teesYellow teesWhite tees
Course rating67.169.670.6
Slope Rating119123128
Adjustment in multi-tee comps0+2+3

Handicap Index example

Red teesYellow teesWhite tees
Handicap Index20.320.320.3
Course Handicap212223
Normal Playing Handicap (95%)19.95=2020.9=2121.85=22
Multi-tee comp adjustment0+2+3
Multi-tee Playing Handicap202325

Where would I get the most advantage? An extra three shots from back tees I am very used to playing from was very tempting.

But I considered the shorter yardage would be more beneficial to my game than the extra shots from white or yellow and so I opted to play from the forward (red) tees.

How it went

Why did I make that choice? The strength of my game is in approach play. I lose overall in strokes gained driving but gain 2.2 on approach, 1 on short game, and +0.8 on putting, according to Arccos. If my best game is from 150 yards and in, I want to take as much pressure off the tee shots as possible. I do that by shortening the course.

For the main part, that’s how it worked out. There’s little difference in the start at York – the opener is a beast whether you go from white or red and shortening the 3rd to a par 4 makes that a very different animal to the chip on, two-putt, par 5 it usually is for me.

In fact, the trouble I got into was when I dug into the bag for the big stick – hitting it into a dead bunker on the 5th fairway, a ditch on the 6th, and into some trees on the 10th.

I quickly worked out that even when I went down the bag – hitting 3-wood or 19-degree hybrid with much more success – I still had a shorter shot into the green than I would have if I’d played from the whites.

The best example of this was the 12th, 364-yard slight dogleg from the backs but a straight 305 from a forward tee much further right.

I went from my usual 8-iron to a half-wedge and I’m not missing a big green from 64 yards. And so I got into a rhythm – parring six in a row from the 8th to the 13th and hitting every green in regulation. I made 10 pars and a birdie overall.

I didn’t particularly feel I was firing on all cylinders – three bogeys in a row for the finish was symptomatic of that – but I shot 77 overall or 38 points in a Stableford.

Would I do it again?

At a course that’s renowned for being pretty tough from the back tees, and following a season that has been one of frustration as my handicap has cranked up two full shots, this was comfortably my best round of the year.

After months of being glum after a round, I left feeling a bit more optimistic about my game. It’s amazing what one reasonable display can do.

Most importantly, it was just more fun. I wasn’t hitting a good drive and then having to try and hit another miracle long iron to try and hit a green in regulation on a long par 4. The yardage was within my range and there were still plenty of traps offered by new angles off the tee and from the fairways.

I got a 0.2 handicap cut for my troubles and, of the 170 competitors, 107 played from the white tees (63 per cent), 40 off the yellows (23 per cent), and 23 from the reds (14 per cent).

There may be plenty of you now saying playing from the forward tees is easier – and it is if you just take the bare par, course, and slope rating numbers. But that’s nullified to an extent by the extra shots handed out to competitors who played from further.

My choice was predicated on what suited my game best. I’m pretty good from 130 yards and in and so if my club offer this option again I’m very likely to move forwards once more.

Would this be the same for you? That’s the choice with which you’d have to wrestle.

And speaking of that, what I really loved about the whole exercise was the options it gave players.

We had a field of 170 all playing in the same competition and going from three different tees. Want to go from the whites? Knock yourselves out. Fancy a spin off the reds? Whatever suits you.

I much prefer the variety this offers, and the chance to shift it up or down depending on how I’m feeling with my game, than simply being forced with ‘it’s the whites or else’.

I’m very keen on players making the decisions – and we haven’t even talked about the new lease of life this could give to club veterans who may have struggled from the back tees. This can only benefit club life and tournament take up.

I look forward to teeing up again from the forward tees very soon indeed.

Have you played in a mixed-tee competition? Which tees would you routinely play from given the choice? Get in touch, drop me a tweet.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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