by Ed Shanaphy, CMAA
Golfers, both professional and amateur, are accustomed to tee times. A driver is swung and a tee is sunk into the tee box on the first hole every 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the length of the first hole and the pace of play of the four players in front of you. The crack of the driver denotes the foursome ahead has reached the green and pulled the pin – that’s still the etiquette I believe.
But, before Covid, there were many, many courses that didn’t require tee times. Players would check in with the caddie master then head over to the starter, or place a ball marked in their own way in a metal rack – much like putting quarters on the side of a pool table to symbolize the implication: “I’m next”. Players would hit a few putts across on the practice green, keeping an eye on the first tee and their slot as they warmed up and their golf ball dropped closer to the bottom of the single-ball rack.
Golf is a good walk, spoiled… by tee times. I despised tee times. They made me rush from the start of my day. 10.10am at the course. It was, simply, the antithesis of a slow, leisurely walk. Shower, throw the clubs in the car by 9.15am. Rush over to the driving range, watching my watch as the seconds and minutes tick toward the first drive.
Golf is not supposed to be like this, right? It’s a game that is played at a slow, relaxed pace. A player is one with the course and nature, not looking at the clocks – those big horrible contraptions that clubs feel they need to have by the first tee. I find those clocks gaudy, but also a nasty reminder that I have fewer than 15 minutes to warm up. Darn it, I hate tee times.
Maybe it’s because where I grew up playing golf, there were no tee times. Just that rack of balls in order to denote the next foursome on a warm sunny, summer morning. I hated tee times as a kid and I hated them, well, until golf had over 10,000,000 more rounds in 2020, even more in 2021 and, it looks like even more in 2022.
Now, there are millions more reasons to have them. Damn tee times. But, now, as both a player and someone in the industry, I understand their necessity. Am I allowed to change my mind?
I mean, even the professionals have tee times. But their game is far from mine. The best I ever was I played with a 12 handicap. Professionals play under par most days. They play for big money. I just go for the walk, the friends, the nature, and, I thought for my sanity. Tee times didn’t help my sanity… until the Pandemic.
Less Waiting Times, More Sanity
With outdoor sports becoming so popular, golf included, the numbers of players has exploded, leading to crunches on the first tees of golf courses. Members and players alike fiddle with their phones while navigating a new club tee time app at 6am the day or several days before they are scheduled to play with their regular foursome. It seems cray, but that’s the world we live in right now. But, I guess it’s better than waiting hours at the first tee.
The same is happening on tennis courts. Clubs that once had a “arrive at the club and wait for a court” have gone over to reservations systems, and some have gone to courts only at certain times to maximize numbers of games each morning.
Tee Times Help Staff…and Players
A sage Director of Golf then mentioned to me back in 2020, the year that his club, after 100 years of avoiding tee times, instituted the dreaded tee-time policy. “Ed, I can plan the day. I have the ability to plan for the appropriate manpower at the right times. There’s no rush on the shop, the staff, or the club out of the blue. I can pace players. Chefs can cook when they need to cook knowing who is on the course.”
He’s right, of course. I like to know who and when will be playing on the tennis courts each morning so I can plan maintenance and marketing. His club is never going back to walk-ons. It will have tee times forever forward, if only for the staff. But members like the idea of knowing what time their game will be, not having to wait watching their ball fall down the rack one by one as foursomes leave the first tee. I do miss that, although I do understand the time crunch we all have in the 2020s. These times are far different from the ’70s of my childhood.
The Game and the Course Still Win
I remember, like it was yesterday, what Mark O’Meara said when he won The Masters back in 1988. It had been a crazy Sunday in Augusta. Jack Nicklaus had made a run. There was a three-way tie as he pushed his tee into the tee box on the 18th, the par four we all know with the hole cut behind the left bunker on Sunday. O’Meara said he looked at the trees as he walked up the 18th with Fred Couples that Easter Sunday. He had had a tee time. In fact, he had the last tee time that day. That must mean even more pressure. I hate tee times, I would especially not like that last tee time.
Mark looked at the trees. He became one with nature. He made the putt on the 18th – a putt so many had missed that day, including Nicklaus. I guess the course still wins, if you allow it. Mark did. Once I step off the first tee, the tee time no longer holds anything over the walk, the game, or me. I’m glad that can still happen.
Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, a subsidiary of SBW Associates, Inc. He is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA, where he gets to play the famed Walker Cup course, Kittansett, every once in a while. His handicap keeps getting higher but is not yet quite as high as his age. He looks forward to his next golf game at 10.18am on a beautiful course.