No tee on a tee shot? Here’s how superintendents feel about the practice

Some players will elect to use a tufted grass tee in place of a traditional one.

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Jack Nicklaus says that everyday duffers should never do it.

But Jordan Spieth is not an everyday duffer, and so he did.

During Sunday’s final round of the AT&T Bryson Nelson, Spieth, who badly needed birdie to catch frontrunner K.H. Lee, stepped up to the par-3 17th tee at TPC Craig Ranch and . . . didn’t use a tee.

Why? Players of his caliber have their reasons (usually, they’re trying to impart a certain shot shape or spin), but those are best explained in an instructional column.

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Our questions here are strictly turf-related, and Spieth’s decision left us chewing on a few.

Is it easier, for instance, to build your own tee with certain grass varietals? Is it bad for the grass to knock it up into a tuft? How do superintendents feel about the practice?

For insights, we turned to Matt Guilfoil, head greenskeeper at Desert Canyon Golf Club, in Phoenix, and co-host of From the Jingweeds, a podcast devoted to the turf-grass trade.

Does turf type make a difference?

The tees at TPC Craig Ranch feature TifSport Bermuda (with an overseeding of rye and poa in the fall), which has stiff upright blades and a dark green color.

But that’s beside the point, Guilfoil says, as it’s no easier or harder to knock up a tuft of turf with one variety or another. “You just turn the club around, give the ground a few good taps and you’ve got what you’re looking for,” he says.

Is it bad for the grass?

Nope. Guilfoil wouldn’t want you doing it on the greens, but the impact is negligible on a tee. Besides, he notes, “you’re going to be taking a divot anyway.”

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Is there an agronomic upside to not using a tee?

Come to think of it, yes. In a roundabout way.

If you don’t use a tee, you can’t leave a tee behind, stuck in the ground or scattered on the box. That’s something that drives superintendents crazy.

“You’re basically littering,” Guilfoil says. “It’s like taking your Snickers wrapper and tossing it out your car window.”

Not only are you making an unsightly mess, but you’re also leaving shrapnel that can damage mower blades and other maintenance equipment.

josh sens

Josh Sens Photographer

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.