Teed Off (Dec. 8, 2013)
with Robert Bicknell
One of my students is not as young as springtime any more. He struggles to hit an 8-iron 130 yards while his friends a younger and a lot stronger, yet his friends insist on everyone playing from the blue tees. This is hardly fair and contrary to the spirit of the game.
On any given weekend, marshals at every golf course in Viet Nam will see players who cannot even reach the fairways, much less the first set of bunkers, playing off the blue tees. Yet he is powerless to do anything about it unless they slow down the golf course.
To combat this, golf directors frequently have to move the blue tees forward to slightly behind the whites on weekends and remove the back (pro tees) completely to keep these types of ego-driven players under control and maintain the pace of play regulations.
This means that players who legitimately belong on the blue tees have to play a less challenging course. It also means that people - who have never broken 100 in their life from the blue tees and do not belong there - complain the course is too easy. It seems easy because they shot the score they are supposed to shoot from that tee box and their handicap is artificially inflated since they do not use the "slope rating", but more on that in moment.
I, for example, don't mind higher handicap players joining me for a round of golf, in fact I usually enjoy it. However, I certainly don't want them on the pro tees with me. Nor do I want to wait for them to hit two or three shots just to reach my drive. They should be on the white tees which would put their tee shot close to mine.
That is the purpose of different tee boxes. We want the golf course to present the same challenges for players of all skill groups and allow them to compete evenly.
For example, I'm currently driving the ball on average of around 318 yards. You put me with someone who drives the ball 220 yards and its going to be a very long afternoon for the both of us. He'll have to hit twice as many shots from the backs and I will have to wait forever to hit my second shot. If we both play off the blue tees, I'll hit a 60-degree wedge for a second shot and he'll be hitting anything from a 5-iron to a 5-wood.
That is hardly a fair contest of golf.
But, put me on the pro tees (backs) and him on the whites and we will both be hitting close to the same distance for the 2nd shots. Yes, I will be hitting a shorter club because I am a stronger player, but now the handicap system has a chance to make a difference and everything is evened up a bit. It will all come down to short games and, in that area, everyone can be equal.
I started the slope-based USGA handicap system here in Viet Nam back in 1998 when I was with Thu Duc (VGCC) and gave it to most of the other clubs operating at the time. The slopes assigned were pretty accurate in most cases, however, clubs and players still don't use it properly - not even in tournaments. They use their "course handicap" instead of their "handicap index" and don't bother with the slope charts to find their real handicap for the course they are playing.
Look, it you're a 20 handicap at Thu Duc's West Course blue tees and you go and play Da Nang GC from the blue tees, you're gonna need more strokes. Maybe a handicap of 21 or 22 because the slope is different. It's a harder course, so the odds of you playing to your handicap are not in your favor.
Golf is supposed to be a fair test for everyone, but to do that, we have to accept that not everyone is of equal skill. This is why we have different tee boxes and the handicap system.
Also, if we want faster play out there, players need to play from the tee boxes which fit their skill level.
There is no loss of face in this. — VNS