White Tees on the Golf Course and Who Should Play Them

The color of the tees does not mean what it used to

A golfer hits his drive from the white tees at a golf course.
Playing from the white tees. Arctic Warrior/Flickr

When you hear a reference to the "white tees" in golf conversation, the speaker is probably referring to the middle tees (traditionally called the "men's tees" or "regular tees") on the teeing ground. But golf has changed a lot, and you won't necessarily find the white tees where the used to be—or at all. It all depends on the course's preference.

White tees used to indicate the middle tees

Traditionally, many golf courses used three sets of tees on each hole. Those tees were designated by color, and the colors were usually red, white, and blue. Red tees were the forward tees, white tees were the middle tees, and blue tees were the back tees—also known as, respectively, the ladies tees, men's tees (or regular tees), and the championship tees.

Today, golf courses might have double the traditional number of tee boxes on each hole and might use any number of colors in any combination and in any order. White tees today (if the color white is used at all) might be at any point on the teeing ground, from front to middle to back.

Who should play the white tees depends on their location

Don't let the traditional meaning of "white tees" as the regular men's tees fool you. Any golfer, regardless of gender or age, whose playing ability best matches the length of the golf course from the white tees should play those tees, whether they are in their traditional middle location or not.

The whole reason for having multiple sets of tees on each teeing ground is to provide options for golfers of different skill levels. 

Playing the golf course from the middle tees on each teeing ground means playing the course at its middle length. A golfer who finds the golf course not challenging enough from the forward tees, but too difficult from the back tees, should play the middle tees.

Play the set of tees appropriate for your game

The starting area for each hole is designated by tee markers and usually distinguished by color, although some clubs name their tees based on a theme. For example, a tree-themed course might label the tees "oak," "birch," "maple," "pine," and "spruce." 

In an effort to encourage golfers to play the tees that are appropriate for their skill level rather than their gender, many golf courses have added tees and changed the colors. Additional tees accommodate seniors—both men and women—who don't hit the ball as far as they used to, as well as more forward tees for beginners and children. It's not unusual for modern golf courses to have five or six sets of tees.

In 2011, in an effort to urge golfers to put aside their egos and play the tees that best suit their game, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America began an initiative called "Tee It Forward." The initiative encouraged golfers to play from a set of tees forward of where they usually play. The bonus was lower scores, faster play, and a more fun round of golf.