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Winter’s Forward Thinking

by Blaine Newnham

Here is an idea of what we’re up against trying to make golf a better game for the masses, a game that isn’t as difficult as it used to be, and doesn’t take as long as it used to take.

After talking about it more often than they wanted to hear it, my buddies in California – we’ve been playing golf together for 50 years – decided this winter to at least follow Barney Adams’ advice (if not mine) to “Tee it Forward.”

The guys – all of them pushing 70 – had just played a round from a forward set of tees. One of them missed a six-foot putt on the final hole that would have capped the splendid day with a score of 79.

“We had a great time,” said Lowell, calling from Castro Valley. “Moving up and having iron shots to greens, to really have a chance to make a par, is really fun.”

So, are they forever convinced?

“Oh, we’ll move up,” said Lowell, “except when the tees are red.”

Wouldn’t want to do that, of course. Can’t play a round from the “ladies tees.”

Come on. Who cares?

The time to experiment with the latest push by the United States Golf Association – the Tee it Forward program – is this winter.

The cold, wet conditions call out for it. So does the relative anonymity that winter golf offers. You know, that old Zen question of “Did you play the red tees if no one saw you?”

And, besides, most areas of the Northwest are frozen, meaning that handicaps are fixed and scores won’t be recorded until spring.

We’re talking about a few different issues here.

The Pacific Northwest Golf Association said it has notified courses to move the tees up in the winter – 20 yards on par 4s and 40 yards on par 5s.

“But that has nothing to do with moving up a set of tees to enjoy the game more,” said John Saegner, the course-rating specialist for the Washington State Golf Association.

“I have always been an advocate of people playing the set of tees that is most comfortable to them. Personally, I feel that most golfers should move forward one set of tees throughout the year.”

It strikes me that very few courses this winter I play have indeed moved the tees forward, as per the PNGA recommendation. Setting the tees usually falls to someone on the greens crew who doesn’t have the trouble getting out of bed on a cold winter morn that I do, someone who doesn’t really care what kind of second shot we might be left with.

Barney Adams, the founder of Adams Golf, is trying to get us to have more fun and to play quicker. He wants to put us in the “tour vicinity,” which means have similar distances to the greens on our approach shots that the touring pros have.

He figures the average par 4 on a men’s professional tour is 440 yards, leaving them 140 yards to the green. Or a 9-iron. Just how often do you have a 9-iron into a green?

Wouldn’t you rather hit a 7-iron for your second shot, instead of a 7-wood?

The USGA has suggested that if you drive the ball 200 yards – really drive it 200 yards – then you ought to be playing a 5,300-yard course, not a 6,300-yard course.

It strikes me that courses need to offer a forward set of tees, a couple of them if they can. And that the forward tees ought to be rated for men as well as women.

The idea that the set of tees you ought to play are determined by your handicap doesn’t really meet Adams’ notion of “tour vicinity.” My handicap suggests I can play more golf course than I actually can, so I spend the day chipping and putting to keep up with guys who are driving it 50 yards past me – and hitting greens in regulation, and having more fun.
Blaine Newnham is a former sports columnist and assistant managing editor for the Seattle Times, and sports editor and columnist for the Eugene Register-Guard. He plays a little golf, rain or shine.