124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

Golf Digest Logo Members' Tee

You might not like it, but this is the best (and easiest) way to feel like a tour pro

May 31, 2024

Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad

At the intersection of the argument about the golf-ball rollback and the game’s slow-play epidemic is the debate over what course yardage we should play. Move up a set of tees and we might play faster and shoot lower scores, but at what point do we sacrifice the integrity and challenge of the game?

To better understand what tee boxes we should play from, we have contextualized just how short courses play for pros and how long they play for Golf Digest+ members. The results are astounding and can be taken two ways: Either tour pros need to play much longer courses, or we need to move up a set of tees—or three.

(Editor’s Note: This story is part of the new Golf Digest Community section, where we engage with Golf Digest+ members. We encourage all members to submit swing videos, great stories, questions or feedback on recent stories at editors@golfdigest.com for a chance to be included in a future edition.)

Last year on the PGA Tour, the average course was a shade under 7,300 yards, and the average driving distance was about 300 yards. Rory McIlroy led the tour in distance, averaging 326 yards per drive. Most of us will never be able to hit it 330 yards, but we can play an appropriate tee box that would make a course feel as it does for McIlroy.

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We polled Golf Digest+ members, and they average about 223 yards off the tee, which is around the average for all male 15-handicap golfers. About 62 percent of our members play from tees longer than 6,000 yards, with 54 percent playing a course yardage of 6,000 to 6,600 yards.

How does that compare to McIlroy and the rest of the tour? If we take McIlroy’s driving distance as a percentage of a tour course’s yardage (4.47 percent), then the average Golf Digest+ member would need to play from 4,985 yards to feel like McIlroy. However, our members are often playing from about 6,300, which is the equivalent of McIlroy playing a 9,200-yard course.

To be fair, as one of the longest players on tour, McIlroy is a bit of an anomaly. How far do we need to play from to feel like an average tour player? Using the same math, the typical Golf Digest+ member who hits it 223 yards would need to play a 5,400-yard course. The issue is, we’re not doing that. Of our members polled, just 12 percent play from under 5,700 yards.

This disparity raises a few questions: Are we playing courses that are too long, or are tour pros playing courses that are too short? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle, but some of our members have written to us and reject the premise altogether: “Distance is a distinct advantage, so we shouldn’t feel entitled to play from the same effective yardage as pros,” their argument goes.

I sympathize with this opinion, but considering five- and six-hour rounds are common at many public courses, I say we look at the numbers and reconsider our tee-box selections. Your handicap and sanity might thank me.