Many traditions in Golf remain sacred and unchangeable, embedded in the culture and beliefs golf club members cling so desperately to. One of these keeps two large sets of members apart, maintaining a long standing divide that drives us and them thinking. We are of course talking about Tees, the ingrained thinking that Red is for Ladies and Yellow is for Men.
The English Golf Union and Today’s Golfer reported back in 2015 on Sheringham Golf Club being the first and Trentham Park Golf Club being the latest to introduce Gender neutral tees to their courses. Both clubs have reported an increase in golf participation as a result of the tee change with Trentham reporting a rise in both membership and retention of members particularly from senior Gents and higher handicapped Ladies.
Is this just another fad?
Gender free tees are already becoming common place in America and growing globally. The idea behind the concept is that everyone is a golfer at any club, regardless of age, gender or ability as such they should be able to move forward or backward as they wish without feeling shame or attaching any stigma to them. This is all about using the course in a way that benefits all members, all ages and all abilities without investing in the building of new tees or restructuring the course. Some clubs have gone a step further with play in some comps seeing players use the tee that matches their handicap.
How does a Gender Free Golf Course work?
At present our choice of tee at Helsby is limited, Gentlemen of Helsby, outside of competitions, can currently only utilize the Yellow tee which plays 6055 yards off the stones. Is this a fair yardage for all abilities? Does the length affect your game? Does it affect your enjoyment of the game? Well although no true mathematical algorithm or comprehensive report exists to answer these questions, the great golf coach and TV pundit Denis Pugh has offered his thoughts on length of course vs players abilities. He is on record as saying “Golfers will often visit a golf course and are often given the choice to play off the championship tees, or the usual yellow tees. This will often result in the majority spending all day slogging away and finishing with a negative opinion of the course as well as their own game”. Pugh makes points here that a large amount of us can relate to, we are lucky that Helsby is not a course of great length but a course of guile and shotmanship. Pugh goes on to suggest a simple mathematical formula that can be applied to a golfer marrying their ability to the length of course that suits them. Pugh suggests that “for maximum enjoyment golfers should be playing courses 28 times their average drive in total length”. Pughs views are inline with the US Golf Association and PGA of America who are already 5 years into their own non gender specific tee initiative, ‘tee it closer’, which has been well received and widely adopted. They suggest a similar system to Pughs presented in a tabular format with recommended course ranges against a players driving distance. These ideas certainty provoke thought and discussion and explore a new way for golf courses to assist players in gaining maximum enjoyment. Everyone would surely agree that hitting 4 iron or 5 wood 2nd shots all day is not much fun.
So taking these systems on board how does Helsby compare? Well applying Pughs formula a player hitting his drive 216 yards on average will gain the most enjoyment out of the course with a length fitting of their ability. The American system suggests that actually you would have to be driving on average 225 yards to gain the most enjoyment. A slight difference here but still a good argument to be made from golf experts that perhaps Helsby, off the yellows and probably more so off the whites, is too long for some members.
So can we now go out and use these systems put forward? if so how do we go about it?
Well at the moment the answer is we can’t (unless we were to play at one of the 30 courses England with gender free tees). At present even though a course maybe too long for us to enjoy or too short that it feels like a seaside pitch and putt the current traditional static tee sets means its hard luck, we have to just get on with it.
So are governing bodies looking at this?
We have already seen the CONGU changes that are in the pipeline regarding CSS but even these changes will not change the fact that not all of us can hit the ball 250 yards off the tee. The CONGU changes are planned to cater for the management of handicaps only, which doesn’t help if you have already reached 28 with no other option than to hit driver driver constantly on the static yellow course you are always forced to play.
Before any changes could be implemented a process would need to be carried out via the union that assesses and grades courses. This would need to be conducted along with a seperate assessment carried out to make all tees lady golfer complient also.
So while it is clear that golf and clubs are adapting like never before the change to non gender specific tees is not simply an overnight operation. There is a strong case put forward for tees of various lengths to exist at courses against the backdrop of traditional and intrinsicly helded beliefs, for this to happen a shared vision must exist.