Split Tees: What They Are and Why Some Golf Tournaments Use Them

Spectators watch Justin Walters of South Africa as he tees off on the 11th hole on the East Course during day four and the final round of the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on January 17, 2016
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"Split tees" is a term that applies to the way some golf tournaments schedule golfers to tee off: When split tees are in use, groups of golfers start their rounds from both the No. 1 and No. 10 tees, simultaneously.

The typical fashion in golf tournaments is for groups of golfers to tee off one after another from the golf course's No. 1 tee. With that normal teeing process in effect, the 9 a.m. tee time will see one group of golfers going off the No. 1 tee, followed by the second group around 10 minutes later, the third group about 10 minutes after that, an so on. All groups starting from the No. 1 tee, one after another.

But when split tees are in effect, the 9 a.m. tee time will see one group of golfers starting from the No. 1 tee while another group simultaneously starts from the No. 10 tee. And each succeeding tee time will see one group teeing off the No. 1 hole, and another group teeing off the No. 10 hole.

Why Split Tees Are Sometimes Used

Why would a golf tournament use split tees rather than starting every group of golfers on the first hole? Primarily because it gets more golfers onto the course more quickly, which means it requires less overall time for the entire field to complete a round of golf.

So a golf tournament might use split tees when there is reason to be concerned about all golfers being able to complete play. A few examples of such circumstances:

  • If a golf tournament has an unusually large field and play is expected to be slow (for example, due to tough golf course conditions), a tournament might use split tees. The U.S. Open, with 156 players in the field, employs split tees in the first two rounds, before the field is cut. The British Open, however, does not, because the British Open is played at a time in Britain with very long days (plenty of sunlight, in other words).
  • If a tournament is played during a time of year when there is less daylight, or when bad weather is expected, it might choose to use split tees.
  • If bad weather or other delays cause a tournament round to fail to complete on its scheduled day, pushing its completion to the following morning, then the event's next round might use split tees. Say Round 1 was unable to finish on Thursday, so has to be completed on Friday morning. Round 2 still needs to take place on Friday, too, so tournament organizers might switch Round 2 to split tees in order to make up time.

'Split Tees' Is Sometimes Used as Another Term for ...

Alternate tees. "Alternate tees" refers to a golf hole on which there are two separate sets of tee boxes. For example, some 9-hole golf courses provide two sets of tee boxes. Golfers use one set on the first nine holes, then when they come back around to a hole for the second time (playing the course again for a second nine), they switch to the second, or alternate, set of tees. This provides a slightly different look to each hole on the second go-round.

Although "split tees" is sometimes used in this sense, the correct term is "alternate tees."