At New London Country Club, head professional Kevin Shea is promoting a program that he thinks will offer golfers a more enjoyable experience when they play. Dubbed "Tee It Forward," the initiative urges golfers to move up a set of tees and play from a distance that is more in line with one's abilities. Shea is convinced that golfers will produce better scores, make more birdies, and consequently, have more fun in each round they play.
Shea has based his idea on a number of assumptions, the most important of which is that most golfers play from a set of tees that makes the course too long for their skills and robs them of the pleasure of a balanced round. Shea says each golfer should ask himself two questions. First, are there any holes that I have no chance of reaching in regulation and second, am I hitting longer clubs such as fairway woods and hybrids into greens as a regular occurrence?
Shea's view is that a round of golf should have some balance to it, meaning you should be able to hit short irons into a third of the greens, mid irons into a third, and hybrids and fairway woods into a third. Shea is asking each member to play one or two rounds from a forward set of tees as an experiment to see if it makes golf more enjoyable for them. Golf committee members John Gunderman and Hap Murano recently played from a set of shorter tees established by Shea and not only did both have significantly better scores than usual but they found it very enjoyable.
This idea doesn't necessarily apply to everyone and there will be some kinks to work out even if the notion gains momentum. The golf culture has deeps roots in the enormity and frailty of the male ego. Getting men to admit that they are not as good or as strong as the next guy is a job for therapists, not golf pros.
Golfers routinely overestimate their abilities and the willingness to "move up" will not be an easy cultural sticking point to overcome. Also, what does one do in groups of mixed ability, particularly as it relates to length off the tee? This morning I will be playing with Rob Renehan and Kevin Willoughby, two former baseball greats who are both, shall we say, Bubba long. As you may guess, I am not. Is this an impediment to my playing with players of this type? To some degree but not enough to temper my enthusiasm for the match. Players will have to work it out as they go along if Tee it Forward has some long term merit.
On the other hand, on my last buddy trip to Arizona with Jim Ryder, Jon Morosini and the inimitable Rodney Mackin, we played some rounds from forward tees at Jon's behest and the experience was pleasant for all of us. Nobody wants to pay an exorbitant amount for golf only to labor through a course so taxing that the vacation seems more like a sentence.
At any rate, give it a try just to see if your enjoyment of this wonderful game is enhanced by a more balanced approach to a round. Kevin Shea deserves some real credit for trying to do what every golf professional should be doing: finding ways to make the game more enjoyable for the players. In a game that's needs a jolt of new enthusiasm, Shea's innovative approach may just be a tonic for golfers.
Jim O'Neill is a member at New London Country Club.