How to choose the correct tee box for your ability, according to a top instructor

golfer tees up golf ball on tee box

Choosing the correct tee box starts with being realistic about your ability.

Getty Images

Welcome to Play Smart, a regular game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Golf is a beautiful game because it can be played alongside players of all different abilities. Experts and novices can share a group in any given round without much impact on enjoyment. That’s not always the case with other sports.

One of the reasons this is possible is that courses offer a variety of tee boxes. Typically, the higher your skill level, the further back you will play. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but more often than not, that’s the way it shakes out.

The key to enjoying the game to the fullest, however, is selecting the correct tee box. Tee off too far back and it can make for a long day.

Many times, though, golfers have no idea where they should actually play from. And much of that comes from over-estimating their abilities.

“Golfers just need to be more realistic,” instructor Stefanie Shaw said at the GOLF Top 100 Teachers Retreat. “I can’t tell you how many times I have golfers tell me they hit their driver 230 yards and then they’ll get set up on a launch monitor and only hit it 160. You have to be realistic about your distances.”

Simply put: Don’t overestimate your abilities. You might have the capability to hit the ball 230, but that doesn’t mean you do it on a consistent basis. If you find yourself hitting many long irons and hybrids into greens, don’t be afraid to move up a tee box.

“Moving up will make you a better golfer, too,” Shaw says. “When you don’t have to hit long clubs into every green, you’ll score better. Plus it’ll help you enjoy the game more.”

Swallowing your pride might not be easy, but when you do, you’ll find yourself enjoying the game more than you ever have before.

Stefanie Shaw is the director of instruction at Ocean Reef Golf Club in Key Largo, Fla. For more tips from Shaw, click here.

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at