One of the basic tenets of the game of golf is, believe it or not, equality. The handicap system and the use of different tee boxes allows players of different ability levels to compete against each other on a level playing field – and that means not only men of different abilities, but women, including women competing against men.
Historically the game of golf, especially in the United States, doesn’t have the best reputation or record when it comes to equality of the sexes. Some courses, at private clubs in particular, have even restricted the times during which women could play. Women would be restricted to playing only during certain hours, or on certain days, usually a weekday, designated as “Ladies Day”. While this practice has virtually disappeared from public courses, especially municipally owned courses, there are still private clubs which have these restrictions in place. While the practice of restricting tee times for women is fading into the antediluvian past where it belongs, the next barrier to fall is more subtle – the question of distance.
It is only relatively recently that courses have stopped calling the forward-most set of tees – usually designated with red tee markers – “ladies’ tees”. While it is true, as a general rule, that women don’t hit the ball as far as men, there is a wide range of abilities among players of both sexes, so generalizing, and designating only one set of tees as being for all women and girls, is not only sexist, but inaccurate.
As mentioned above, the handicap system and the use of different tee boxes allow players of different abilities to compete against each other equitably, and the key to making the system work for you is to know how far you hit the ball. It is true that golfers, especially men, are known for being obsessed with how far they can hit a golf ball, especially off the tee with a driver – the “big dog”, and while distance off the tee is important, it’s not being able to hit the ball a long way that counts, as knowing with some accuracy how far you can consistently hit it.
Knowing your consistent driver distance – not the distance you managed that one time when the planets aligned and you hit it so pure that you heard angels sing as the ball came off the clubface and disappeared down range like a rocket – will help you choose what set of tees to play based on total distance from that set of tees. The table shown below is a good starting point:
|Driver distance||Total Yardage|
How do you get a good handle on your “real-world” driver distance? Easy—18Birdies. The data-gathering features of the 18Birdies app allows you to record the distance of your shot for every time you hit driver—and every other club in your bag, for that matter. With that information, gathered on the course—not in a hitting bay on the range, with range balls that are designed for durability, not performance; or in an indoor golf center, where the simulator or tracking software calculates and projects where the ball probably would have gone—you will be better equipped to know what you can expect from a tee shot. Take a look at this basic chart of distance averages for women. This is a good starting point when adding distance averages within the app.
The point of playing from the proper set of tees is to allow players of different abilities to play each hole on the course on an equitable basis. If two golfers play a round from the same set of tees, but one player is a shorter hitter than the other, the shorter-hitting player will be at a considerable disadvantage. Shorter off the tee means further from the green, requiring the use of a longer club, with a shallower landing angle (generally) and more difficulty holding the green. Playing from the proper set of tees means that a driver-wedge shot combination for the long hitter playing the blue tees is also driver-wedge for the shorter hitter who is playing from the red tees.
After determining what set of tees to play from, the next step to leveling the playing field is to determine your “course handicap” based on your handicap index. According to the USGA, “A Handicap Index® is a portable number that can be converted to a Course Handicap™ from any set of tees rated for a player’s gender so the game will be equitable no matter what tees are played.” The USGA has a convenient calculator on their website that can be used to calculate course handicap based on the player’s handicap index and the slope rating of the course. The slope rating, a measure of the difficulty of the course, will be listed on the scorecard for each set of tees.
With a course handicap in hand, and knowing which set of tees will have you playing the best setup for your game, and with your playing partners for the day doing the same, you can compete on an even basis with players of any ability level, man or woman.