Why my favorite round of the year was a ‘Tee-It-Forward’ revelation

The Phoenician

Navigating the Phoenician's water hazards is much easier with a short club in hand.

Jessica Marksbury

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since a partnership between the PGA of America and the USGA first encouraged golfers to “Tee It Forward” — that is, to make a concerted effort to play a set of tees that more accurately reflects their driving distance.

I thought it was a great idea at the time, especially for many of the men I played with, who frequently insisted on playing from the back tees, or “tips,” despite being tortured by the experience.

“Tee It Forward” wasn’t an idea I personally embraced — mostly because I was a single-digit handicap, and a woman, so I often did play the forward tees by default. But if I had a choice, I usually opted for a mid-length tees — say, 5,700 yards. Many courses offer a composite tee, mixing the forward and middle set, so I would play from there if the yardage worked out. Why did I do that? I never thought about it too much. As a former collegiate golfer, I guess I simply thought I should play from a “challenging” set of tees.

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But as the years went by and my handicap grew while my driving distance diminished, I still found myself abiding by the same yardage principles when I played my increasingly infrequent rounds. I would play 18 holes barely touching my short or mid-irons, unless I came upon an ultra-short par-3. Instead, I leaned on my fairway woods and hybrids on seemingly every par-4. But I never thought about moving up a tee.

That is, until early December, when I had the chance to play the Phoenician Golf Club — a beautiful resort course in Phoenix, Ariz. — as a part of a small media group.

The Phoenician offers four sets of tees, ranging from 4,594 to 6,518 yards — pretty friendly for most guests! There are also a few composite tee options. The course was redesigned and renovated from a 27-hole facility into a more cohesive 18-hole track in 2018. It was in fabulous condition and offers incredible panoramic views of Camelback Mountain and the surrounding Sonoran Desert. On a clear day, like the one we had, you can see all the way to the Phoenix airport and State Farm Stadium in Glendale — home of the 2023 Super Bowl.

The morning I played, I was paired with a wonderful cart-mate, Moira McCarthy, who had just taken up the game this spring. I was planning to play the second set of composite tees, but Moira was going to play the forward tees. In an effort to maintain the flow of our round, I opted to play the forward tees too.

The Phoenician
A par-3 from the forward tees? Yes, please! Jessica Marksbury

I can’t recall the last time I played such a short yardage, but I also can’t recall the last time I had so much fun playing golf. Instead of 5-woods and hybrids into greens, I had sand wedges and 9-irons. I had birdie looks galore, and even drove the green on a short par-4 (the ultra-cool, par-4 13th) and drained the putt for eagle. (!!)

I couldn’t believe it. This must be what Jon Rahm and Lexi Thompson and Rory McIlroy and Lydia Ko feel like every day. And here I was experiencing it for the first time! It truly opened my eyes to the idea that “Tee It Forward” has had it right all along. Regardless of your ability, playing up will never not be fun. Driving the green will never not be fun. Having a look at birdie will never not be fun. You still have to make the same swings and stroke the same putts. But it’s infinitely more fun doing it with manageable yardages. Tee It Forward is the way of the future!

Well, my future anyway. At this point in my life, I’m not a competitive golfer anymore. I’m a 30-something mom! The handful of rounds I get to play each year are purely for enjoyment. And after this memorable experience at the Phoenician, teeing it as far forward as I can will be my new modus operandi.

As an aside, I shot 76 from those tees — five over par. The birdies and eagle didn’t mask my usual blunders and occasional blow-up holes. But it was my lowest score in years. Despite that fact, my posted score still computed to an 11.7 handicap differential — nearly four shots higher than my current index.

Trending up? I would say so!

Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.