Old Invention Fits Golfers to a Tee; Tee Inspires Innovations, but the Traditional Wooden Variety Might Still Be Best

Article excerpt

Byline: GARRY SMITS

It's the most modest piece of golf equipment in any player's bag. Accomplished players actually could play an entire round and post a decent score without one.

But it's older than the sand wedge, steel shaft and the wound golf ball. It's also the only way, within the rules, for a player to hit the golf ball other than from a lie on grass, ground or sand.

It's the golf tee, which is 118 years old and finally catching up with the rest of modern golf equipment.

For most of its history, the tee's composition has been consistent: usually made of wood, about 2 inches in height, sharp on one end to plant it in the ground, and a rounded, recessed top on which to put the golf ball.

More recently, the tee is being made of synthetic materials, can be found in longer lengths to accommodate the 450cc driver head (the United States Golf Association has capped the tee's length at 4 inches) and has a surface on which to rest the ball composed of bristles, prongs and angled holes.

Tees made of wood or other materials also can be found in almost any color, although most players seem to prefer white or the natural color of light wood, because a colored tee can leave a stripe on the sole of their clubs.

There are tees that also double as divot tools (a traditional tee can do the same thing anyway). There have been biodegradable tees made of corn cobs.

And yes, there are Al Czervik's "naked lady" tees from the movie Caddyshack.

Tees are no longer an afterthought, something to grab near the cash register of a retail golf store when buying a $500 driver or a set of irons. Tom Ashton, owner of the four area Edwin Watts stores, said tees in increasing variety and styles are so in demand that he has a small piece of floor space in each shop he calls "Tee Island," devoted to tees of all shapes, sizes, colors and functions.

"When the whole world was going faster and more high-tech, tees sort of dragged along," Ashton said. "Companies are able, with engineering, computers and high-speed cameras, to make tees that will make a difference in how the balls come off. You can buy tees with less drag on the ball, and that will result in a cleaner hit, with less spin."

Manufacturers need to be careful, however, because the USGA already has clamped down on tee technology. In addition to capping the length at 4 inches, the USGA rules also state that a tee "must not be designed or manufactured in such a way that it could indicate the line of play or influence the movement of the ball."

Jacksonville resident Tommy Dudley, a member of the USGA rules committee, said he hasn't come across a tee that he would call non-conforming.

"I think if you came up with a tee that had an arrow painted on the top, that would be indicating the line of play," he said. …