To put the ball in play it must start within a specified shape. The shape begins with an imaginary line between the tee markers. The sides of the shape run along the external edge of the markers. The back connects the sides two club lengths deep from the front line. Golfers can stand anywhere — and they will.
Blake Cain, grounds and greens superintendent at Bent Tree Country Club in Dallas, Texas, knows that “as superintendents, we prioritize tees behind greens, bunkers, fairways and other tasks. We have to maximize efficiency.” The par-71, 18-hole course Cain and his team maintain was built on the site of a revived cotton farm, has several water features and demands strong tee shots.
Bent Tree supports three or four tees on each hole, with black, blue, white and red markers. The blue/white tee is the largest on most holes and tees are walk-mowed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to .450’’ to .500” mostly on TifSport Bermudagrass. Tee yardage plaques are edged every Tuesday and Friday and tee mowing routes are designed “for minimal distance traveled between holes,” Cain says. Tee setup changes daily to help with recovery and the width between the tee markers is altered if pressure on part of the tee is intense. Tee placements take course condition, wind direction and aesthetics into account.
“Previously, we mowed the 3-to-9 direction but the past few years we changed to 8-to-2 and 10-to-4 to reduce grain and scalping. Our operators prefer it, too,” Cain adds. Mowing lines can be a problem, with scalping on the clean-up pass and skips becoming more noticeable but Legacy is sprayed approximately every three weeks (adjusted for GDD) and that helps.
Jim Myers, superintendent at Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland, Oregon, agrees that tees need daily attention and notes that all tees need something slightly different. “There are tees that sit in full sun and need more water and some tees need very little,” Myers says. Get to know your tees and accept there is no one-size-fits-all treatment.
With an extensive practice facility, a 9-hole par-3 and an 18-hole championship course, Myers and his team must manage dozens of tees. Columbia Edgewater hosts the LPGA Portland Classic, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. The team is already thinking about where markers will go for the professionals, usually opting for half-and-half mowing for the event. Myers appreciates the advances in triplex mowers that now make them suitable for tees.
Like Bent Tree, Columbia Edgewater uses four sets of tees: black, blue, white and red. One person is responsible for daily tee setup, which includes filling divots. “There are so many and we have to maintain them at a higher level than we were,” Myers says. The members know the “divot first, sand-and-seed second” policy and they help. Two additional sand-and-seed stations have been installed due to a 30 percent increase in rounds, up to nearly 200 a day.
Both facilities are challenged by shade. “We’ve tried everything in some areas,” Cain says. Some Bent Tree tees have been sodded multiple times in the past several years. “We have improved these areas through plant genetics. Newer varieties of zoysia will stay greener longer and recover from traffic more quickly,” Cain says. They have also taken an aggressive tree-trimming and root-pruning approach, and when old sod is removed, the subsurface is amended with products to boost organic matter and improve rewetting potential.
Mount Hood can be seen rising majestically in the distance from the short course at Columbia Edgewater, but Sequoias and other trees create shade across the property. “We water less in some areas and add more fertilizer, often topdressing,” Myers says. Staff take TDR readings to keep moisture levels consistent and trim branches to lift the canopy to allow for air movement and sunlight.
Myers works closely with management and members. “I receive emails from members weekly about tee setup,” he says of where they want markers for certain events. Cain receives comments about tee placement occasionally too, but “golfers have very few complaints about tees unless they are hard — hard from the standpoint of difficulty and hard in that the ground is too firm to place a tee,” he says.
Tees have a greater effect than most people realize on the experience each golfer has. Columbia Edgewater still has a few original tees from when the course was designed by A.V. Macan in 1924 (wow!), but a tee renovated in 2019 was managed with in-house labor and with the help of a contractor. “We worked with an architect, so we started with a good design,” Myers says.
Tee size, placement, construction methodology, amenities, accessibility, player preferences and much more must be considered to design a tee well. Jan Bel Jan, a past president of the ASGCA, has been implementing Scoring Tees since 2011. Ideally, these tees play between 4,000 and 4,400 yards and are placed to allow slower swing speed golfers to use an approach club similar to that used by longer hitters on the same hole. “When you play from a set of tees that suits your distance and not just your distance off the tee, you increase the potential for pars and birdies,” says Bel Jan, who is so passionate about the concept that she recently acquired a trademark. This encourages more people to play (and play more often) because they have more fun.
Owners and operators ultimately make renovation decisions. “Who is going to play and who do you want to play here? Where should tees be placed to keep and attract those golfers? If you don’t make improvements, the course may lose value,” Bel Jan says. On every hole there should be at least one tee that is fully accessible (commonly the most forward tee) and more where topographically possible. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 must be complied with, particularly when building new tees.
For construction, “after the number of rounds expected per tee to determine the size, the soil type is going to be the biggest determinant,” Bel Jan says. “With sand and topsoil, you can usually build tees to have only surface drainage if there is minimal watershed onto them. If you have rocky, clay or high-silt soils, consider a sand-cap constructed tee, with or without drainage, depending on the tee surrounds,” she adds. The pitch for most tees varies between 1 and 2 percent, and as Myers mentions, all tees are a little different.
“The tee is where you set the tone for the experience at your course,” Cain says. “Let that decide how important maintaining tees is.”