Is it Cheating to Play off Forward Tees in Winter?

When you walk out onto the golf course on the midst of a particularly soggy and sodden winter, the first thing that comes to mind is the disadvantage afforded in terms of additional length of course. The temptation is to nullify some of this disadvantage by shortening the course and playing off forward tees. ‘I know’, you think to yourself, ‘I’ll play off the yellows today. It isn’t really an advantage, given that the course is playing far longer than it usually does.’ Most golfers out there will admit to considering such an option, as it is a natural reaction to conditions that are perceived to be more difficult. The issue, however, is that it has to work both ways. How often do we consider playing off the back tees because the course is firm and, by corollary, playing shorter than its yardage? Golf is about testing yourself in all conditions. It simply isn’t a fair test of golfing aptitude when the traditional routine is broken to account for seasonal disparity.


When a handicap is awarded, it is proof that you are good enough to play to a certain standard, period. There is absolutely no mention of seasonal variation. Simply put, if your handicap is 18 in summer, your handicap is 18 in winter. If you play off white tees in the summer but yellow tees in the winter, you are giving yourself and advantage. It must be dispelled from the outset that shorter courses guarantee better scoring, but it certainly of benefit. If your handicap has been awarded based on scores off the white tees, it is unacceptable to play from the yellow tees. Regardless of the fact that the Standard Scratch Score may differ between the two sets of tees, you are attempting to make it easier for yourself to get a better score.

It isn’t just a case of cheating the system, but also comes down to cheating yourself. Granted, rounds in winter may not be played with handicap modification in mind. You might argue that it is a nice bonus to have the opportunity to play golf in the winter and, as such, scoring and tees utilised are irrelevant. I would disagree with such a stance, and would hazard a guess that the vast majority of golfers would also. If score is irrelevant, then why would any thought pertaining to changing tees be entertained? It is an indirect and arguably subconscious consideration that demonstrates the impossibility of completely neglecting score. If score remains relevant in winter, as it does for most, then the same applies.

The round of your life?

Golf is a competitive game, both against others and against ourselves, and is seen as such by almost all that partake in the sport. The overriding feeling when you step onto the first tee is hope; hope that today will be the round of your life. Any round started off forward tees renders redundant the eventual outcome. Say you are a proficient golfer who plays from the whites. Your best round to date is 80. One winter’s day, you play from the yellows, and play as well as you have ever played, shooting 78. How many people out there would consider this a legitimate record? Whilst not directly responsible for the 78, playing off forward tees has been a contributing factor. It can’t be considered as a best ever round, because, in your heart of hearts, you know you moved to the forward tees to give yourself an advantage. You wouldn’t have done that in the spring or summer, so why have you done it in winter? Playing off forward tees to make up for bad conditions isn’t justifiable, because bad conditions are one of the variables that make the sport such a challenge.


Many of those golfers that chose to play off forward tees in the winter may completely disagree with the notion of cheating, and perhaps it is too strong a word. Regardless of how it is labelled, however, rounds played off forward tees in winter shouldn’t stand as valid and be submitted for handicap review. Part of the draw of any sport played outside is that conditions are changeable and present different challenges at different times of year. Conditions may be different, but that doesn’t mean our routine should be. Playing off forward tees also increases the angle between tee box and fairway, thus adding an extra dimension to the argument that it presents an advantage. Next time you consider playing from forward tees in winter, ask yourself how you would feel if you were to shoot the round of your life. If you could accept it as legitimate with no reservations, then play off forward tees, but you would form part of an overwhelming golfing minority.


1 Comment

  1. As long as the forward set of tees has a course rating and slope, go ahead and play without hesitation and post it if you shoot your record score. The same should hold true if you play a forward round in spring, summer, or fall, not just winter. Professionals don’t discount scores played on easier courses. Is Al Geiberger’s round of 59 in the 1977 Memphis Classic considered any more or less of an accomplishment than David Duval’s or Stuart Appleby’s or Chip Beck’s? They each had a different course length and degree of difficulty, but the answer is “no.” They are only remembered as scores of 59.

    Where is it written you have to play the same set of tees every time out? Some courses I play have five sets of tees and I’ll routinely play from a different set, generally guided by the thought of what would provide the most enjoyment for the day.

    Great thought provoking post, thanks!

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