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  • Ty Butler

Those Tedious Tees


I have always felt, in terms of design, the most under-utilized featured to create visual and playing interest is the teeing ground. I’m always amazed when I see a set of tees that lack any creative juices. You know the ones, lined up like good soldiers, all the same size. Their either square or free form, and the worst culprits are the free form tees that take on all the same shape and size! At least free form tees provide the opportunity to do something a little different, and when this chance is missed, or worse ignored, it seems to amplify their pedestrian nature even more.


The teeing ground is the perfect opportunity to instantly set the tone for each hole. Not only can shot values instantly be enhanced for all players, but the complex can also visually stir a player’s imagination. Employing a variety of visual qualities within the complex can greatly enhance the overall golf experience, and for me is a contributing element to setting a great course apart from the pack.


The teeing ground has evolved into a few distinct architectural styles. There is the square or rectangle, and its variation the “credit card” with rounded corners, ovals and free form.

The Square tee evokes a very traditional and classic feel since it was the predominant tee type of the earliest courses, and might be the most widely used tee by most architects today. When used properly it can be a tremendous aid to help the golfer align themselves to the hole. When used improperly and not aligned correctly, it can be quite a disaster for the golfer. With careful supervision during construction tee misalignment can be avoided, but when done intentionally this is just dirty pool on the part of the architect! One would think this shape to be very limiting when considering aesthetics, but when varying sizes, and more importantly orientation of the shape is varied some very dynamic visual qualities can be created. When employing this style, creating a variety of shots values can be a challenge. Often areas between square tees, particularly when placed in an exaggerated staggered formation, are lost opportunities to fully maximize the variety of angles available. However, this can be mitigated when size and orientation of the square is exploited to its fullest, and the visual interest that results can create some visually dynamic geometric shapes as well. The ultimate form of this type is the classic “Runway Tee” developed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. These tees, which in some cases, were 100 yards in length help to address the lack of variety. They did nothing in terms of angle, but they certainly provided an array of distances a hole could play.


The “Credit Card” tee and his brother the Oval shape are seen widely throughout most American courses. They are surely a dumbed down version of the square form, and possibly the result of advancements in modern maintenance equipment. It is certainly conjecture on my part, but as specialized riding mowers were developed specifically for use in mowing tees the resulting cutting of corners must have given birth to the oval tee. In my opinion, this is certainly the least attractive tee style to employ. Their visual qualities are often limited and they possess the same potential pitfalls as the square tee to creating variety.


Free Form tees provide the most flexibility with regard to shape variety and playing options. The name speaks for itself, and with a vivid imagination the sky is the limit in terms of the shapes that can be created. Angles can be created by extending the free form side-to-side, and where dead space is created with square or oval shapes, the free form tee occupies this void. It certainly provides a multitude of set up options, as well as diverse angles of play for golfers. The shot value possibilities are endless! When this technique has been mastered the visual qualities this approach creates can be gorgeous. Interweaving the shapes front-to-back, as well as side-to-side can be quite stunning, if not disorienting as well! If I have a preference or “go too” style, it’s this approach. I feel the flexibility and visual qualities created are far superior to that of the other types. This approach does have a modern connotation, so when a more classic feel is desired I certainly would not utilize my old stand-by.


Recently, there has been a new tee genre added to the mix. The “Ribbon” tee is a hybrid of the classic RTJ Sr. runway tee and the free form type. Coincidentally, this style was coined by Robert Trent Jones Jr. who first developed the approach at Chambers Bay. They are characterized by long, narrow ribbons of turf which are both linear and free form in nature. They certainly do not have the rigid nature of the long ago runway tee, but not quite the uniqueness of shape found with free forms. Probably their most unique quality, as well as controversial, is their undulating surface. They’re not flat! And according their designer they were designed to be this way. Quite a bold move and probably time will tell whether they will be accepted by most golfers. I do think this approach has tremendous application and could be a positive impact on the game of golf. From the standpoint of variety, it can create limitless options for players to enjoy. And just to add another twist to the discussion, eliminating tee markers in conjunction with this tee style might create an interesting dynamic to the way the game is played. I have often felt the tee marker, as well as "Par", is the most limiting element to the game, and if eliminated, would free golfers to choose, without guilt or embarrassment, from where to play. Think of the fun you could have playing a match with your buddy and there were no tees. The winner of the holes gets to choose the starting point for the next. It could be like one big game of H-O-R-S-E on the golf course!

Finally, I can’t close without imparting one last word of wisdom when it comes to tees…. never, ever mix your styles. It’s kinda’ like mixing your alcohol…. it’s only going to get ugly quick!

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