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Tee It Forward

New program instituted to help golfers enjoy the game

July 27, 2012
By Dennis Grall - Sports Editor ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Taking three shots to reach a routine par four hole gets old in a hurry. Putting a tee shot into a hazard easily cleared by longer hitters gets frustrating quickly.

Having fun on the golf course is always the goal entering the parking lot, but that quickly becomes elusive when you find your game is not up to the challenge or the conditions when you reach the first tee.

A movement reaching into the Upper Peninsula is beginning to build momentum to put a little more enjoyment into the game, which hopefully will build interest in a sport suffering a downturn in recent years.

Article Photos

Dennis Grall | Daily Press
Golfers have a variety of tee options at many of the modern course designs, such as Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris. No. 17 has up to three tee placements on the back side of this bridge and three more without having to take the bridge. Dan and Barb Heimerman of Pickerel, Wis. cross the bridge during a recent outing.

Tee It Forward is an initiative started by Barney Adams, founder of Adams Golf, that has been adopted by the PGA and USGA that gives amateurs a chance to play a course at roughly the distances of a touring pro by adjusting distances on various holes.

"This is an innovation that we think will appeal to golfers of all skill levels because it gives them a new challenge that better aligns with their abilities," said USGA president Jim Hyler.

"The PGA believes that this new approach to the game can make golf much more fun for millions of people and increase their desire to come back and play even more golf," said PGA president Allen Wronowski.

The Highland Golf Club and Marquette Heritage Golf Club have already introduced a portion of the plan, and newer courses that are built with four and five tee boxes are also encouraging golfers to play the position that suits their game the best.

A couples tournament at Highland this weekend will incorporate the idea as players with higher handicaps among the 74 teams will be allowed to use forward tee locations.

"People want to have better scores and we want to give them a chance to have good scores," said Highland manager Kevin Londo.

Londo noted golf traffic is shrinking throughout the country. "We have to find a way to get people to play and get them off the course quicker instead of playing three-hour rounds for nine holes," he said.

Tee boxes on three longer par three holes at Highland (nos. 4-7-8) have been shortened for women, by 55 yards to 135 yards on No. 4 and to 135-140 yards on the others.

"We found out women had too high scores and were complaining," Londo said of needing two shots just to reach the green.

Asked about a goal of golf course managers, Londo said "we definitely want to have people enjoy the game of golf. We're not out there to make new Tiger Woods, we want them to have fun with their families, their co-workers, and enjoy the day. We want them to come back."

Marc Gilmore, long-time pro at Marquette Golf Club, said an alternate format is available for youngsters and beginners on the Heritage layout. Special scorecards are available and tee areas of 150 yards or less are marked off, and family days are established.

"It works out really good. It got kids to enjoy it more," Gilmore said of trying to attract the next generation of golfers. "That is the whole point of teeing it forward."

It also relates to having senior golfers use tees suitable for their reduced distance by moving them forward. Gilmore said his father, who will be 80 next month, plays in a group that has moved forward "after battling the white tees for years and they are having a blast."

Gilmore said the Marquette senior tees were moved forward about three years ago. "A lot of guys enjoy it more," he said.

Players are also being encouraged to "blend the tees" to fit their needs, using any of three or four tee boxes on various holes. "You should be as flexible as you can to make people enjoy the game," Gilmore said.

"It is a recreational game. If you do not enjoy what you are recreating at you are not bound to come back. People expect to have fun when they come into the drive (to the clubhouse). We don't want them to go home upset."

Golfers who are upset with battling tough conditions or who get frustrated by mistakes caused by taking on too big of a challenge may not visit the clubhouse after their round, which defeats the purpose of making money for the business.

Gilmore, who also directs golf at challenging Greywalls course, encourages players "to play where their comfort level is. Don't categorize the (forward) tee as the women's tee. It is just a tee," he said.

Handicap and age can figure in that decision, although he noted bowlers of all ages play the identical lane with 10 pins.

"What kind of challenge are you looking for that day," Gilmore said of deciding which tee to play. "Every course offers a challenge. Some guys want to see how bad they can get beat up. You can have a fun and relaxing round or go to the back tees and test yourself against the championship tees."

Dave Douglas, director of golf at Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris, said players should look at the scorecard to see how the various tee boxes could affect their choice of length. Sweetgrass has five tee boxes on each hole, with the course ranging from 5,075 yards to 7,275 yards.

"Play the tees of your ability," he said. "It is nice for all level of golfers to reach a (par 4) green in two than to chip and try for par. Try to make it more enjoyable," he said.

By being able to better manage the course, Douglas said "it gets them in a mind-frame that they can't wait to play again.

"It shouldn't be only based on handicap. Age should have something to do with it too," he said. "Play a distance that suits your game."

The LPGA Tour has visited Sweetgrass the past two years with the Symetra Tournament for young professionals, and he noted the women used a variety of tee formations. "The longer holes they used the golds," he said.

Londo said his first barometer visiting a different course is checking out the par three distances. "If you're hitting a wood to every par three, you're hitting the wrong ones (tee box)," he said.

"If you have a 7-or-8-iron into a par four, then it is the right tee box. If you're hitting a higher iron or a hybrid into the green, you should think about moving up."

No. 15 at Escanaba Country Club and No. 5 at Sweetgrass are good examples of par fours that are more manageable for the average hitter from the yellow tee compared to the white tee. A 5-6 iron can be used for the approach from the yellow while a 3-wood approach is required using the white tee.

"It is more fun putting for birdie than putting for bogey," more than one golf professional has said.

The average Tour player's drive is around 290 yards while a typical amateur is less than 225 yards, and most women don't reach 200 yards.

In another effort to help youngsters and beginners, Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire is trying a new program of inserting eight-inch cups on each hole of the Schuss Mountain course while using the forward tees.

The traditional 4 1/4-inch holes are also on each hole for players using the regular tees. Players decide before their round which tee-hole format they will play.

"Hopefully this will help grow the game of golf," said director of golf Brian Kautz of a program Jack Nicklaus has been pushing to restore fun to the game, particularly for women and juniors.



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