03 Mar 2022 | Professional golf |

Fairness to a tee

by Martin Blake

Hannah Green Cobram image
Hannah Green's win at TPS Murray River was a triumph for course set-up.

In the language of golf, new expressions pop up quite regularly. And in Australia, the latest instalment would be ‘scaled tees’.

That’s because of the proliferation of mixed golfing events at a time when the game comes together.

This season the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia and WPGA Tour of Australasia is running four Webex Players Series events with men and women playing for the same prize, including one at Bonnie Doon in Sydney this week.

Just more than a week ago Hannah Green won the Murray River instalment held at Cobram Barooga Golf Club, becoming the first woman to win a TPS prize and creating a bit of history as the first woman to win a four-round mixed event on a major world tour. It created headlines everywhere and in many ways, it was a triumph for the setting up of the course for a mixed event. It was not just Green who played well; four women finished in the top 10.

As Karen, Lunn, the WPGA Tour chief executive said recently: “Looking at the rankings Hannah was far and away the best player in the field, and if she didn’t win playing her best golf, we’d done something wrong.”

Scaled tees are the instrument by which the events are meant to be made fair for all competitors.

Not that it’s easy. As PGA Tournaments Manager Graeme Scott once said about the way courses are set up for women and men to play together: “There’s no manual for this.”

In events like TPS Sydney at Bonnie Doon Golf Club this week or in the Hunter Valley next week at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort, there has to be an acknowledgement of the different physiology of men and women; the fact that as a general rule, men hit farther and spin the ball more. That means they can’t play from the same tees if you are running an event that aspires to give everyone a chance to win.

At Cobram Barooga, the women played a course that was 866 metres shorter than the men’s course. At Bonnie Doon this week, it’s 795 metres shorter from the women.

But it’s not as simple as just moving the tees forward for the women. “The key is that we have to set the golf course up so that it plays evenly for both men and women,” said Nick Dastey, the PGA’s Tournaments Director.

“It’s not a perfect science, because everyone hits the golf ball different distances. Some of the women will hit it as long as some of the shorter-hitting men and so on.”

The way this is done is to analyse data about how far men and women hit the golf ball, both here and around the world, and to look closely at the course. At Cobram, Dastey and WPGA Tour chief executive Karen Lunn drove up to the Murray prior to Christmas and Dastey played the course with Steffi Vogel, a trainee pro from the club, to gauge distances, analyse the course and how it played and clubs used. This practical analysis along with the theory around average distances was then considered in order to come up with the final ‘scaled tees’ positions.

The point in regards to clubs used is crucial to course set-up for a mixed event.

“We’re trying to get to a point where if a guy hits a good drive and he has a nine iron into the green, then we want a woman who’s hit a good drive to have something like a nine iron or a wedge into the same green,” said Dastey. “We want them to have effectively the same iron shot. They don’t have to be side-by-side at 150 metres out, for instance, because at 150 metres the average man might hit an eight or seven iron and the average woman could be hitting a six or a five. It’s more about getting them hitting the same club.

“We also have to be mindful of the spin rate and the fact that men can stop the ball quicker, and that dictates to where you put the pins. So in these events, you won’t have pins tucked away to the same degree like they might be for a male-only event.”

Dastey points out that certain courses will suit the women more than others. For instance at Cobram Barooga, there was a premium on keeping the ball in play. “There’s no doubt that in general the women hit it straighter,” he said. “So on a golf course that’s not overly long, or a course that’s tight and doesn’t lend itself to being overpowered, the straighter hitters might have a better chance.

“We’re aware of all these things, that there might be a hole here or there that works better for the men than the women, and vice-versa.”

Some slight adjustments have been made for Bonnie Doon this week (as they were for Rosebud) as the tours strive for the fairest possible set-up. It’s a work in progress with no doubt that the more this is done, the better it will get.

“That’s been the challenge of the Webex Players series to be honest with you, it’s getting that right,” said Lunn. “Because the difference between the long-hitting men and the short hitting men is probably 60 metres, the difference between the longer-hitting women and the shorter-hitting women is probably somewhere in the middle. It’s a tough job but one we will continue to improve on over time.’’

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