Callaway AI Smoke Clubs
Callaway Golf Balls
Drummond Golf oct 2020
Gender Neutral Tees & Teeing it Forward

Thanks to the handicap system, the beauty of golf is that you can play at just about any age and with just about anyone, regardless of ability or years of experience. This same thinking has been applied to a worldwide movement to implement tees based on ability or handicaps, as opposed to existing gendered tees.

Golf Tee at the National Wembley Golf Course Wembly Golf Course The Natioanl Golf Club The National Golf Club Gunnamatta Course

In 2011, the PGA of America and USGA launched Tee it Forward, an initiative that encourages all golfers to play the course at a length that is aligned with their average driving distance, and one that was lauded by some of the world’s greatest golfers.

"I love the game of golf, but I will be the first to tell you that there are things about our game we need to improve," said Jack Nicklaus, winner of 18 Majors. "Now the PGA of America and the USGA have come together to develop ways that can make the game more attractive and more enjoyable. Tee It Forward is the first of many initiatives…and I think families around the country will enjoy alternate formats like this to make the game more fun.”

Fun is the operative word. Not only does playing from forward tees, or tees better suited to your ability make it more enjoyable for the older golfer, younger golfer, and new golfer, but it can help to speed up play and make the overall experience better for everyone. Additionally, it alleviates the potential perceived stigma attached to a gendered tee, which has helped prolong the golfing lives of many.

“Our member feedback, mostly from our mid-week golfers, has been really positive,” says Brett Nelson, General Manager of the National on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. “Since switching to gender-neutral tees, we’ve noticed considerable uptake from our members of all four courses, especially Moonah, our championship style course, and The Old Course, which are challenging from tee box to fairway.”

“As golfers become older, they don’t hit the ball as far. So, instead of members losing out on the opportunity to play, we’ve opened the tee boxes, so they can play forward, and still get the experience to enjoy the course for what it is.”

Looking at different ways to consume and enjoy golf is the mantra of Perth’s Wembley Golf Course, a purpose-built public golf facility that leads the nation in design and functionality to attract more than just golfers. “We’re not traditional,” says General Manager, Josh Madden. “We want our players to be entertained and for everyone to have access.”

Wembley began switching its traditional tee colours mid-way through 2021 and can’t believe it didn’t make the switch, sooner. “Instead of traditional tee colours, we use those of our branding – white, green, and black – and the feedback has been nothing but positive. Surprisingly, the strongest feedback has been from the older men!

“We did over 180 thousand rounds last year, more than any other golf course in the country and only 3.9 percent of those were competition rounds. So that said to us, we needed to change the story. The info from the recent PGA Golf Expo in Melbourne cemented that thinking. It told us that 86 percent of all golfers are in it for wellness and to connect with others and our environment. So, I came away thinking, we need to change the way we talk. It’s all about connection. The moment you come through our gates you take a breath because this is your time and you’ve earned it.

Like any change, not everyone is convinced bringing tees forward based on ability or changing the colours to do away with gender stereotypes, is the right way forward. There have been cries for reduced fees due to playing shorter distances and arguments that it can break up a group playing together, which traditionally have all hit off the same tees. However, the likelihood is that this has suited some within the group, but not all. Forward tees and gender-neutral tees mean the experience is more bespoke and therefore everyone is more likely to enjoy their round, as opposed to accommodating others. In saying that, no one is tied to a tee. There is no hard and fast rule to say you must hit off a certain tee, unless in competition.

In the words of Nicklaus, regarded as one of the greatest golfers to have lived, “all of us deeply involved in the game constantly encourage golfers of all skill levels to play the proper tees, but too often golfers want to bite off as much of the golf course as they can. What ends up suffering is their scorecard and their overall enjoyment. This program should help stimulate people to play the proper tees and maximize the golf experience."

Advice in the World Handicap System on gender-neutral tees from the R&A and USGA: “The tee markers used to designate each set of tees on a golf course should be consistent in name, colour and/or design and distinguishable from the tee markers used for other sets of tees. It is strongly recommended that the Authorized Association issues guidance to golf clubs as to how these avoid any association with gender or age.”

 Words by Tiffany Cherry, Head of Female Engagement, Golf Australia