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Tee It Forward – Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, the PGA of America and the USGA announced a joint initiative encouraging golfers to play from tees that best suited their game. Tee It Forward was inspired by the thinking of Barney Adams, founder of Adams Golf, who argued many golfers were playing from tees that were too long given how far they hit their drives. The concept and the campaign were well received. Golf editorial support was widespread and a television PSA featuring Jack Nicklaus spoke to golfers.

Recently, NGF surveyed Core golfers and learned that 73% could recall Tee It Forward, but only 30% had actually moved up in the past 5-10 years – most of them over the age of 50. Certainly not everyone needed to make a jump, but the ones who did, and followed the campaign’s advice, have almost unanimously enjoyed the benefits. Three-quarters say their scores improved, and even more (80%) say they’ve had more fun.

It’s telling that a strong majority of Core golfers (over 80%) believe that golfers playing from inappropriate tees is a “big problem.” Our analysis would seem to support this sentiment – to a certain extent, at least – with as many as a third of core golfers (~4MM) currently playing from tees that are too long for them.

So why don’t more golfers move up? Why hasn’t a great idea like Tee It Forward caught on more than it has? Because behavioral changes in consumers and operators require a lot of time, effort and intervention. National advertising helps create needed awareness, but is insufficient to overcome the inertiae of ego, convenience and conformity, which golfers – virtually all of them – willingly admit stand in the way.

When the Tee It Forward campaign was launched, Barney Adams said that success would be a long and arduous process. He got the arduous part right. But like some other well-intentioned industry initiatives, this one was, unfortunately, too short-lived.

Still, it should be noted that some golf course operators are having success in getting their customers to play the correct tees. Cathy Harbin for one, with an age-based effort at her facility in Paris, TX, and the Longleaf Golf & Family Club in Southern Pines, NC, which created a tee system based on driving distance. Others can learn from them or come up with their own creative solutions. If you’re an operator who’s had success in getting customers to “play the right tees,” or you’re interested in trying to implement an effort, we’d love to hear from you.

Four out of five core golfers suggest they are open to experimenting with forward tees. Let’s discuss more ways to encourage (or influence) them to act.


For more NGF research on “playing the right tees,” click here 

Joseph Beditz
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