I Took the Forward Tees Challenge

As part of The Sand Trap’s experiment, I ditched the tips for a day. I was licking my chops and was raring to go. It was fun, but boy was it a debacle!

Thrash TalkThe idea is beautiful in its simplicity, and genius in how many layers it can peel back. It’s called the Forward Tees Tournament and it’s taking place next weekend at your home course. Just as the name says, everyone plays from the shortest set of tees their home course provides. Before you head out, you post your expectations.

I call tell you from experience, it’s going to open your eyes. And maybe not in a good way.

I’d like to call the FTT less of a golf skills event and more of a golf intervention. Stripped of a big course rating, a yardage that measures near 7,000, and standing where Mr. and Mrs. Havercamp normally tee off, you’ve got to be oozing confidence. I know I was. Until I realized all the flaws that show up from the tips just might rear their heads from the senior tees.

The day before I came across Erik’s idea, and before I’d read several pages of posts from guys expecting to post big-time scores, I left the course after 10 holes. I was disinterested, couldn’t focus on my game, and felt beaten down by a summer of good steady play, but nothing great. I’d geared up for the club championship, only to play my worst round of the year in the qualifier.

My last four rounds were each undone by a stretch of indifference, and with nothing much to play for, I sleepwalked through August. It seemed that no matter if I played 15 holes at even par, I’d be 10 over on my worst three. The next time, I’d sprinkle my bogeys all over the place, but no matter what I was in a low- to mid-80s rut.

So it was no more than a day after I’d left the course and told the guy in the cart barn that “I’m ready for a little break from the game” that I jumped at the offer from the wife to go play. She said she wanted to take a Saturday afternoon nap, but I think she was just sick of listening to me yell at the TV as a bunch of football players ran around.

The idea was so fun, so invigorating. I’d get to play from the forward tees, and I had the chance for 18 holes of birdie and eagle chances. By my estimate, the course would play as a par 69 with two easily reachable par 5s (439 and 383 yards) and a drivable par 4 (268 yards). There were a couple other sub-300 par 4s and short par 5s, but they’re either around a dogleg or simply didn’t make sense to attempt to drive.

I knew part of the experiment was to post my expected score. With a handicap index of 7.1, but knowing my game’s been so-so, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t want to be too bold, so I figured 77 would be a reasonable expectation since I know the greens well, my chipping is better than it’s been in years, and I knew I’d have short irons in my hands all day. In my heart, I knew this should be my best chance to break 75, but I was afraid to set my hopes that high.

Sadly, my only apprehension was how I’d look teeing up on the forward tees, but it was my lucky day and the holiday weekend meant only a couple cars in the parking lot and I basically had the course to myself. My home course of Glenwood Country Club has two sets of tees on the front tee box, so I chose the gold tees, also known as the “seniors,” since that one had a men’s course rating and slope and I was only a couple paces behind the reds. From the golds, the course measures 5,340 with a rating of 66.8 and slope of 125.

I drove out to the 12th tee knowing there would be noone else out there on the back nine. It’s one of the reachable par fives, but still required a good drive. Sure enough, I piped one right along the corner of the dogleg, leaving a mid-iron in. A two-putt birdie and my enthusiasm for the game was at an all time high. I followed that with a drive over the corner of a dogleg that didn’t climb as fast I’d hoped, falling straight down and leaving 200 into the green and an eventual bogey. But then a 115-yard par three meant a little wedge that hit four inches from the cup and left me a short birdie putt. I was 1-under after three holes, and was standing with a wedge in my hand in the fairway of a “par five.”

I was thinking three under. Next thing I knew I was back to even.

It was on my fourth hole of the day that I started to realize what 18 holes would illustrate. Regardless of the yardage, golf is a game of managing mistakes. In this instance, I tugged that wedge into a trap with an awful stance. I skulled it into a lake, then made a fantastic up-and-down for a tap-in bogey. Terrible approach compounded by an overly aggressive sand shot and the strokes were piling up. On paper, I made par at worst there, every single time. In real life, gotta make the shots.

I don’t need to bore you with a shot by shot of the rest of the day, since my wife already got that and didn’t seem all that amused. But I finished my first nine holes at 4-over 40, with three-putts on the last two holes. I got to the 10th tee and angrily blasted a driver into the woods on a par five I could have reached in two with a fairway wood off the tee.

Another lesson learned: after consecutive three-jacks, I wanted no part of strategy. The round was a waste, I had to hit driver even though I had a 20 percent chance of pulling off the high draw I’d need (or actually not need since my natural 5-wood ball flight would have ended up perfect), and I’m certain you could see the steam coming out of my ears. Being upset over my putting impaired my judgement and led to a double bogey on a hole that should have been a birdie more times than not. And you guessed it, I three-putted for the third straight hole, this time from eight feet. Eventually after two holes on the back nine, I was four over thanks to a second straight drive into the woods.

At this point in the day, my enthusiasm had shifted into frustration. I’d end up shooting 45 on the back, including a four-putt as my stroke, and my confidence on the greens completely eroded. It was still fun knowing each hole was playing as a birdie chance, and it was nice to break the monotony of playing the same course week after week.

The day was full of observations, and self reflection let me really peel pack the layers from my game.

A few of them:

  1. It was amazing how quickly the thrill of knowing I could shoot a career round turned into pressure of knowing that posting a big number would be far worse than the pride in posting a good score.
  2. A good designer will make a course interesting regardless of which tees you play, and this was evident at Glenwood. Many characteristics of the course translate, most notably the penalty for errant tee shots, and a demand for choosing clubs wisely. At least four times I got too aggressive and it cost me.
  3. The positive feelings from hitting a career drive only mask the shortcomings in the rest of the game. Bending a driver around a sharp dogleg might be fun, and it’s something to lean on when you hit the approach 40 feet wide of the target. From the forward tees, the wayward shot is put into much greater focus.
  4. One of the reasons I think my putting is strong is that I’m hitting so few greens, my putts are often following chips, not full irons. With short irons in, I registered more GIRs, but my lag putting was exposed, which meant those six-footers became three-putts, which always sting more than a failure to get up and down from off the green.
  5. Course management was a real challenge. There was a sense that every single hole had to play as a birdie hole and it was hard to show discretion. I’d definitely blame poor decisions on half my poor play, and my skills for the other half. I’d be thrilled to shoot even par, no matter which tees I was playing. Why then, did I abhor par so much? Each time I didn’t have a birdie putt, it felt like a failure. As the longer putts exposed my weakness on the greens, the distance of the course put a magnifying glass on my mental game and ability to stay disciplined.

With my round complete, I can’t wait to hear the experiences of others. Erik’s idea will help gather data and let us see just what distance means to the game.

While I wasn’t happy with my play, it was a great day and a great chance to pump some energy back into my game.

When I finally came to grips with the 85 I’d posted, I had time for another quick nine and I decided to play from the tips. Sure enough, I fired a 41, which was one of my best scores of the year on that nine. Suddenly I’m excited to get back on the course this weekend. That’s a lot more than I could say pre-Forward Tee Tournament.

Are you man enough to play from the forward tees? Details are in this forum thread. Sign up to play today.

7 thoughts on “I Took the Forward Tees Challenge”

  1. OK, let’s do the math. With an index of 7.1, your handicap for a slope of 125 is 8. Add the course rating of 66.8, you should shoot 74.8 rounded to 75. Your average score will be three shots higher (your index would be the low ten of your last twenty times .96 which is why your average score for the whole twenty rounds will be three shots higher), so you really should shoot 78 on average. So your prediction of 77 was in the ball park. And only once every twenty rounds will you shoot 75 or less

    Regardless of which tees you play, you still have to chip and putt. And course management from the gold tees is way different than from the back tees. You probably had a lot of shots that you never usually have.

    I bet that if you played 20 rounds from the gold tees that your index would go up instead of down. Nevertheless, it is fun to break 75 occasionally.

    Signed: a confirmed white tee guy who once shot 72 from the whites and can’t break 80 from the blues.

  2. Great column. Thanks for sharing your experiences. And no, I am not “man enough to play from the forward tees.” 😉 Maybe, next year.

  3. Thanks for the chuckle. I can relate to some of this, but my variation really strengthened my game this year. My swing coach challenged me to many variations of this. Like play from the tips only hitting hybrid, driver from forward tees, 5 clubs etc. Now I didn’t do these before tournaments, but it has made me a better player this year from practicing shots and distances I don’t see to often. Again fun article.

  4. I have never played from up front. Even now while I am trying to rebuild my golf swing I am playing from the back tees. I know what you mean about playing mindless rounds where you cannot score to save your life.

    I will be cruising along at near par when all of a sudden, somewhere in the middle I will post a six or seven or even an eight. Then the next hole I will be two over par and the same for the next.

    As a result I am now 9 or 10 over par. I will par out or even record another bogey or two and be close to 50 for nine. I have even scored a 44 and been par for six holes.

    Its a strange game that does funny things to your head. To get back to playing up front, I will have to be in my 80’s before that will happen as I am 65 now and hit my drives 250+.

  5. Great article. I need to try it soon. Like Roethel said its a good way to force youself to play shots you’d never normally have to hit. I’m a 14 handicap but my strength has always been the driver. Take that out of my hand on a few more holes and I bet my scores wouldnt budge.

  6. Played with a customer a couple weeks ago and he wanted to play from the forward tees. Shot a 73 versus my normal 80-85.
    The main thing I discovered was the pressure it put on my putting due more GIRs.

    Also last year in a moment of disgust after a 50 on the front 9, I played the back with a 23* hybrid and a putter. Shot a 40 and had a blast trying to be creative with shots inside 175 ids

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