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Wyatt S. Flat, asks, ‘Your courses have some unusual tees. Why?’
I don’t like repetitive design elements. Design conformity is not continuity, it is boredom. Absent tight budgets and/or space constraints, I like tee designs that (literally) think out of the (tee) box, as in the following:
The Wide Tee
Most tees are 30 to 40 feet wide – the minimum to spread wear – and are lined up down the fairway. However, an extremely wide tee of 140 feet or more allows enough marker variation to change strategies daily. These merit at least one on every course where topography suggests. The 4th at Tierra Santa Country Club in Weslaco, Texas, wraps over 100 yards around a lake, providing vastly different angles of play. Tierra Santa opened about 1996. It’s a private course I co-designed with Steve Elkington.
Taking the wide tee concept further, creating two widely separated tees also makes a hole play differently every day, often costing little land or expense. These work both on single- and double-fairway holes, where they create four distinct tee-shot possibilities. However, splitting tees with the cart path often brings the path into view.
Some future course (possibly mine!) will feature many widely spaced double tees to speed play. I once played Carnoustie Golf Club in Scotland in a mixed-gender foursome. One hole had men’s and women’s tees on opposite sides of the previous green. To speed the round on a cold day, both genders teed off at the same time, sparking the idea that this concept could speed play – albeit while losing some golf camaraderie.
Classic-era architect George Thomas proposed the “Fair Tee” as a fairway extension. These are also common on Scottish courses where mowing patterns were not distinct.
Generally, fair tees are ground level, broad and rolling, with some pads in the fairway for tee locations. Any tee with enough level space can “break the mold” with uneven areas as well, such as gentle rolls between normal tee areas, albeit at slightly higher maintenance expense.
Other variations include highly elevated fairway extensions (“catwalk” tees), with grass banks to enhance that elevation. Any long single tee works best when the fairway rises gently uphill and the fairway view is not blocked.
Where tees sit on gentle or downhill sites, decked or step-down tees are necessary to fit the natural contour, balance cuts and fills, and provide vision to the fairway from all tees.
Usually, the steep banks between tees are surfaced with rough, which requires less maintenance, but a nice counterpoint occurs by maintaining these decks as tee areas, perhaps narrowing the deck on free-form tees to reduce costs.
Valley tees set down among deep mounds (usually enhanced in tall grass) to create a visual funnel, reminiscent of some courses in the dunes of Ireland. This helps whenever saddled with bad surrounding views, and provides a change from the normal elevated tee.
On water holes, I prefer valley tees set near water level to amplify the presence and sound of waves lapping on the shore.
Valley tees are great for spectators, where this is a factor. However, for most courses without a regular event, these are only necessary on the opening and closing holes where spectators would likely congregate.
“Extravagant Shape” Tee
Most tees are gently free-form to fit the landscape, but they can be more extravagantly shaped as a design element. I have designed wishbones, doughnuts (with islands of flowers occupying one or more donut holes for aesthetics, usually on opening or closing holes) and even letters. (I usually let the land dictate tee shape, but sometimes use an unusual tee, just for the “L” of it)
A mix of tee designs can go a long way to setting each hole apart from others, both visually and for playability.