It's nice when golf course designers "aim" tee boxes directly at the center of the fairway or, on par 3s, at the green. But many times the architect, or the superintendent in charge of mowing patterns, will point the tee at an angle to the direction you want to hit the shot – sometimes into the rough, trees or other trouble.
If you've experienced this, you know that it can add difficulty to lining up correctly. Even when you know the direction of the target, once you stand over the ball your natural tendency is to align the body with the position of the tee markers or the direction of the mowed grass. Other times we manage to line up correctly, but subconsciously swing in the direction that feels correct – e.g. where the tee points – but turns out to be off-target.
Since it's difficult to overcome the sensation that cross-tee alignment causes, you must be absolutely convinced that your aim is correct before addressing the ball. That's the only way to make a committed, confident swing.
- Stand behind the ball looking straight at the target.
- Find an object, such as a broken tee or divot, lying directly on the line between ball and target, no more than a couple of feet in front of your ball.
- Step to the ball and line up the clubface precisely with the object.
- Take your stance, making sure the clubface remains pointed at the object.
- Look at the target for a little longer than usual to gain a visual sense of its position.
- Return your eyes to the ground and track the line from your club to the target. This will tell you that you are, in fact, aligned correctly.
- Make your swing.
Again, the key is to gain total trust in your aim before taking the club back. You must eliminate doubt and indecision, which will cause you to adjust your alignment and/or swing path to one that feels right, but isn't.
Dealing with Misaligned Tee Boxes
When you start to think about everything that you have to deal with on the golf course, it is amazing that anyone ever makes it from the first hole to the last with a good score. There are so many things that can go wrong along the way, and so many things that you need to know in order to avoid disaster. Just knowing the basic swing technique isn't nearly enough to play good golf – you have to have a bank of knowledge in your mind that you can call on in order to navigate your way through the various problems that are going to come up at one point or another. From weather and poor lies to slow play, fatigue, and much more, you have to be prepared to everything if you want to be a consistent, quality player.
It is with that background in mind that we start to discuss the topic of misaligned tee boxes. This is one of those things that goes into the category of small details on the course that can make a big difference. At first thought, it might not seem like a misaligned tee box could cause much of a problem in your game. However, when you look closer, you see that this really is a big issue. Most golfers simply trust that the tee boxes are aligned with the middle of the fairways – when they aren't, those assumptions are incorrect and the ball is likely to wind up anywhere but the short grass.
Before getting too far into this subtle but important topic, we should first define what is meant by a 'misaligned' tee box. When a tee box is aligned properly, the box itself is in a position that is square to the middle of the fairway (or the green, on a par three). Most tee boxes are either square or rectangular in shape, and most course designers to their best to keep them square to the target as an aid to golfers. However, that doesn't always happen. Some lower-end golf courses fail to get their tee boxes aligned properly during design, and others fall out of square with the rest of the course as things change over time. For instance, mowing patterns and maintenance could potential take a tee box out of alignment, even if it was nicely square when the course was built.
The big problem that golfers face when they walk onto a tee that is misaligned is the fact that most players just expect tee boxes to be square. Without even thinking twice, some players will tee the ball up, aim in general alignment with the tee box itself, and swing away. If the box was squared up properly, this isn't a problem. However, if the tee box is out of alignment, even a good swing will send the ball into the rough – or worse.
Any swing instruction included below has been written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Taking No Chances
When you walk onto a tee box, you could choose to just assume that the tee box is square to the fairway – or you could take a couple of seconds to find out for yourself. Most of the tee boxes that you play will in fact be in a square position, but some will not – meaning you can't take anything for granted. Don't assume that the tee box is leading you in the right direction. It won't take long to find out for sure, and your game will be better off for the effort.
To get a good look at the overall layout of the tee box – and the rest of the hole – the best thing you can do is to stand back a few yards behind the tee markers, looking down the fairway. From this perspective you will be able to see the shape of the tee box, the position of the tee markers themselves, and the location of your target for the shot. Without doing anything else, you should instantly get a good idea for whether or not the tee box is, in fact, aligned correctly with the target you will be using.
Once you get into the habit of looking over the hole from this perspective, you will find that it simply becomes part of your shot preparation as you begin each hole. When you park your cart or walk up with your bag, take a route that leads you to the back of the tee box before going anywhere else. By planning your movement around the course to include a view from this perspective, you won't have to take any extra time (or spend any extra energy) trying to get a good look at the tee and the target. You will often see experienced golfers taking this kind of route as they walk the golf course, and that isn't by accident. Knowing where to walk is a skill that you can develop over time, and you want to make sure that you include the back of the tee box as once of your top destinations.
You should be using this vantage point on every hole that you play, not just on the par fours and fives. While tee box misalignment doesn't tend to be as much of a problem on par threes – since you are locking in on the hole location during the aiming process – you should still double check to make sure the tee box doesn't lead you astray. Playing well on a regular basis is all about consistency, and taking a look down the hole from the same perspective each time is just another layer of consistency that you can build in to your game.
Picking Your Own Target
Every shot that you hit during a round of golf – with no exceptions – needs a specific target. Whether you are standing on the tee, in the fairway, in the rough, or even on the green, you need to have a very specific target in mind for all shots that you strike. Golf is a target game, so it would be foolish to hit a shot without first selecting a target. By taking the task of picking a target seriously, you can go a long way toward eliminating the concern of tee box misalignment.
One of the common mistakes that is made by the average golfer is assuming that the middle of the fairway is automatically the target for their tee shots. Often, the middle of the fairway will in fact be the right target, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes, you will want to aim down one side or another to play away from a hazard that is lurking. Or, you may decide to play away from the middle in order to set up a better angle for your next shot. Whatever the case, it is important to think about exactly where you want to place your ball with your tee shot. Making assumptions in golf is always a recipe for trouble, so don't just blindly swing away for the middle of the short grass. Take a moment to pick your target, and be confident in your selection once it is made.
Now that you have a specific target in mind, the next step in the process is to align yourself with that target. This is where a poorly aligned tee box can potentially cause trouble. You need to make sure the process of aligning your stance prior to the swing is based solely on the target itself – not on the orientation of the tee box. To do this successfully, you are going to use what is known as an 'intermediate target'. This is a point that is between your ball and the actual target which you are going to use for alignment purposes. To use an intermediate target successfully, follow the simple steps below –
- To start, stand behind your ball on an extension of the target line. From this position, you should be able to look straight up from your ball to find the target. In addition to allowing you to get a good look at the target, this position is also a great place from which to start your pre-shot routine.
- While standing behind the ball, look at the ground roughly a foot or so in front of the ball to pick out a spot that is going to serve as your intermediate target. This spot should stand out from the rest of the grass, and it should be easy to identify when you walk up to take your stance. It may be a blade of grass that is discolored, or a leaf, small stone, or just about anything else that grabs your eye. Of course, this object should be perfectly on the line between your ball and the target.
- Now that you have your spot picked out, the next thing to do is walk up to the ball and take your stance. The first part of your address position that should be put into place is the club itself – you should place the club head behind the ball before you put your feet into position. Don't look up at your actual target during this phase of the set up. Instead, just look back and forth between your club face and the intermediate target that you are using for the shot. As long as the club face is square to that target, you are ready to go.
- The club face should be the basis for everything else that you do in your stance. Once it is in position, make sure it stays perfectly still while you put together the rest of your stance. When complete, you should feel balanced and athletic while knowing that the club face is pointed directly at the target you have picked out for the shot. With assurance that you are aimed in the right direction, you can now make your swing with total confidence.
When you go through this kind of process prior to hitting your tee shots, you really won't have to worry about misaligned tee boxes. The process you are now using will help you get lined up just right even if the tee box is turned to the right or left significantly. Work on the process outlined above during your next visit to the driving range in order to get comfortable with it before heading out onto the course. As long as you trust the process and block out everything else, the alignment of the tee box under your feet will not make any difference to the outcome of your shots.
Dealing with the Par Threes
When you come up to a par three that has a tee box which is poorly aligned to the green, you will be well-served to stick with the process outlined in the section above. No matter what kind of shot you are facing, going through the process of picking out an intermediate target is a great way to block out all other distractions. However, when it comes to tee shots on par three holes, there are a few specific points that you need to keep in mind with regard to your aim.
Quite obviously, hitting your tee shot on a par three is just like hitting your approach shot on a par four, with the exception of the tee that is sitting beneath your ball. You are playing a shot into a putting surface, and you need to think strategically in order to place your ball in the right spot to – hopefully – set up a birdie putt. Although many golfers like to play them because they don't have to worry about hitting a tee shot with their driver, par threes are actually some of the hardest holes on the course. They are frequently rather long, requiring you to hit a longer iron than you would hit on a typical approach shot for a par four or par five. If you would like to make sure you aim intelligently on the par threes, even when the tee box is misaligned, use the list of tips below.
- Play for the low side. This is a tip that very few golfers understand, let alone actually put into use, but it is one of the best ways to lower your scores on par three holes. When standing on the tee, take a look at the hole location compared to the topography of the course on and around the green. Where is the low side of the hole? If there is a significant slope in play, you always want to favor your shots toward the low side. Playing your second shot uphill – whether you are putting or chipping – is going to give you a great advantage over having to play downhill. You can easily make a bogey or worse when playing from the high side, so do your best to get the ball below the hole whenever possible.
- Fire away with shorter clubs. As mentioned above, many par three holes feature significant yardage, meaning you will be happy just to get the ball on the green at all. However, for those par three holes that do give you a chance to play from inside of 150 or so, you should be taking dead aim at the pin. Since you are able to tee the ball up, there should be no trouble getting your shot up in the air and on line with a short iron. There is never anything wrong with making a par on a par three, but you can feel free to go after a birdie when the yardage is on the shorter side.
- Avoid unnecessary risk. One of the worst things you can do on a par three is to make a big mistake from the tee that will cost you several strokes before the hole is completed. Avoid taking on too much risk by playing safely away from any hazards that are guarding the green. Specifically, pay attention to water hazards that are in play. When you hit the ball in the water on a par three, you will often be left with very few good options in terms of a drop location. It is common to have a water ball turn into a double or triple bogey on a par three. Be smart, be patient, and play to the safe side of the hole when a hazard is in play.
You will likely run into more than a few tee boxes which are misaligned on par threes if you play a variety of courses over the years to come. However, if you think more about the tips above than you do about the tee box itself, you should be just fine. Remember, once you have decided on a target for your shot, use the intermediate target method to align yourself perfectly before you make a swing.
Rising Above the Course
The issue of misaligned tee boxes leads nicely into another, bigger, issue that has been known to plague the average golfer. When struggling during a round, many golfers are prone to blame the golf course itself, rather than looking at their own performance for the cause of the struggles. You might recognize this pattern in your game from time to time. For instance, have you ever tried to blame the green for a missed putt, when it was really you who pulled the ball to the left? Or, have you cursed the ground for giving your ball a firm bounce over the green, when you should have known that the turf was going to be firm? All golfers are guilty of this kind of attitude from time to time – but if you wish to be a better player, you need to rise above it and take ownership of your game.
In the end, the golf course doesn't care how you play, or how you score. It isn't 'out to get you', or anything like that. The course is what it is, and it isn't going to change when your shots are hit. Don't think about the course as your enemy so much as you think about it as an obstacle course. You need to plan your way around the course using all of the information you have available, including what you can see in front of you, what you have learned from past shots, and more. The more information you include in your decision making process when planning a shot, the better chance you will have to succeed.
This is the way you should think about the topic of misaligned tee boxes. Can they be annoying? Sure. Do they have the potential to lead you astray? Of course. However, if you do your job correctly – meaning, you do a good job of picking a target and aiming at that target accurately – you should have nothing to worry about. It is certainly possible to hit great drives from misaligned tees, as long as you focus on the details without getting too caught up in the overall shape and direction of the teeing ground itself. You could take the easy way out and blame the course for your poor shots, but that really wouldn't help you play any better. If you are serious about shooting lower scores, you will drop any kind of excuse you may have and instead focus your attention on hitting better shots and playing better golf.
Golf courses aren't perfect. Unlike other sports, which have perfectly square and parallel lines to mark out the playing surface, golf is played over thousands of yards of imperfect earth. There are going to be all kinds of bumps, divots, bare spots, and much more along the route. No matter what you encounter, including misaligned tee boxes, you are tasked with the job of keeping your focus and making great swings to specific targets from the first hole on through to the last.