It’s been a hot topic within the golf industry for a while, but is it eventually time to ditch the traditional tee system and open the doors to a game that focuses on ability, not gender?

Gender-free tee in golf

It’s been a hot topic within the golf industry for a while, but is it eventually time to ditch the traditional tee system and open the doors to a game that focuses on ability, not gender?

By Charlotte Ibbetson

In 2015, Women & Golf reported on the number of golf clubs choosing to go gender-free, abandoning ladies’ and men’s tees in favour of a system based on ability. Four years on, have we really seen the positive impact we all expected from this bold move? Honestly, the jury’s still out, but I think there’s much more we need to do before we’ll really start to see a change.

Implemented correctly, scrapping the traditional tee system will ultimately make the game more accessible and more enjoyable for everyone – male or female. The rationale behind this idea is threefold:

  1. Attract and retain: Give golfers the option to play from the tees that suit their ability and in turn make their round more enjoyable. Hey presto, they’re more likely to stay in the game.
  2. Improve: Challenge golfers with longer or shorter courses, make them play shots they wouldn’t normally play and task them with having to think more about course management.
  3. Introduce new competitions: A flexible tee system means that competitions can be played from any tee, with both men and women competing equally.

And it’s a notion that’s shared across the industry. Lauren Spray, Women and Girls Manager at England Golf commented, "Gender-free tees offer greater flexibility for all players. It offers everyone a chance to progress and challenge themselves by playing a longer course, but equally gives an opportunity to those who find the length of the course more of an issue than an option."

"Ultimately, it’s about golfers enjoying their leisure time on the course and playing from tees that best match their ability."

So, what’s holding us back? In my opinion, the problem lies with the label we put on the tees – we need to find an alternative to ‘Red’, ‘Yellow’, ‘White’ and ‘Blue’, which have been engrained in all of our brains as ‘Ladies’’, ‘Men’s’, ‘Men’s competition’ and ‘Really-good-men’s competition’. These labels are antiquated, unnecessary and a huge barrier to helping the game move forward.

I live in the Middle East, and something that clubs do really well here is the labelling of tees. At Yas Links Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, you’ll find 54, 62, 66 and 70 tees, meaning 5,400 yards, 6,200 yards, and so on. Five teeing options based on the length of the course and the golfer’s ability, not their gender.

And it works. Men and women aren’t scared to play from the ‘ladies’ tees’ or the ‘men’s tees’ because there aren’t any. There’s no issue of ego or stigma, simply pick the course that best suits your game. I’ve played plenty of rounds where I’ve played from the 62 tees and my playing partners have teed off from the 66 and 54s, and similarly, I’ve played rounds where we’ve all played from the 54s because it’s a social game after a few too many wines the night before.

James Ibbetson, Director of Golf at Yas Links Abu Dhabi said: "Neither our members or visitors refer to our tees as men’s or ladies’, and that’s been the most important thing in making the system such a success."

The tee set up has meant that the club has been able to introduce new competitions, such as a 6-6-6 tournament which sees men and women play six holes from the 54 tees, six from the 62 tees and six from the 66 tees.

"It’s a great way to get people really thinking on the course and get them to play shots they wouldn’t normally play."

"There was a concern from our members that our 6-6-6 tournament would benefit the men, but what we actually saw was that, in general, the scores were very much consistent with our standard stableford competitions."

Removing barriers to provide greater accessibility is absolutely imperative. We wouldn’t expect to be told where to where to play from or where to stand in any other sport simply because we’re female, so why do we continue to do it golf?

Do you have gender-free tees at your club? Tell us what you think by emailing [email protected].


Multitasking At Its Finest!