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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

New approach in tee box: move up

Some recreational golfers want to play like tour pros, so they move all the way back and play from the longest tee markers. That is a step in the wrong direction, according to industry experts who believe that to really play like the pros, golfers should move up.

The experts say that everyone -- no matter what markers they hit from now -- ought to hit from tee markers that are closer to the green. That way, they can have mid- or short-iron shots into greens, as pros do. Weekend golfers still won't hit the ball the way pros do, but they won't find golf such an ordeal, either.

That is the premise of a national program called Tee It Forward, which will permit and encourage golfers to hit from forward tees when it officially begins Tuesday. It is endorsed by the U.S. Golf Association, PGA of America and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and has been adopted by a few Long Island courses.

"All I'm talking about is leveling the playing field," said Tee It Forward spokesman and inspiration Barney Adams, retired head of Adams Golf, who created the popular Tight Lies fairway wood and is a single digit handicap at age 72.

He started thinking when he was whining after an unhappy round. "I had just played in the California desert in the middle of winter on a beautiful course with wonderful people. The little voice in me said, 'What's wrong with you?' I got to thinking about why I was whining and it was because it took too long and it wasn't any fun. I went on the Internet and saw why people stop playing golf. The first two reasons are that it takes too long and it's no fun," Adams said.

So he came up with the idea of making courses shorter. It is the flip side of the rationale at the Masters, which lengthened holes so modern golfers will hit the same clubs into greens as pros did in the 1950s and 1960s. Adams' idea is to shorten holes so recreational golfers can hit the same kinds of shots into greens that pros do.

In what has become a famous experiment, Adams took a pro onto a course and asked him to tee off from spots that would require him to reach greens with long irons, hybrids or fairway woods, as amateurs usually do. That occasionally meant hitting from the previous fairway.

"After four holes, we quit," Adams said. "He said, 'This is stupid. If golf were like this, I don't think I'd play.' I said, 'Really.' He said, 'This is no fun,' and I said, 'Really.' "

That story got around. Major golf organizations created Tee It Forward as part of their campaign to stop the decline in golf's business. "I made toes curl when I said, 'You've got all these initiatives, but it's like putting people in a car and driving them to a bad movie. You've got to fix the movie,' " Adams said.

Officials decided it would take a formal imprimatur to get a golfer who usually plays from the so-called "men's" tees to hit from the so-called "senior" or "ladies" tees. Thus, the advertising effort for Tee It Forward.

Lots of luck.

"You're talking about changing habits and you have no idea how much resistance there is going to be," Adams said.

Golf people believe it is worth a try. "We're not going to force this on anybody," said Tim Garvin, head pro at South Fork Country Club in Amagansett, which will introduce Tee It Forward on Wednesday. Golfers still will be allowed to tee off from their usual places. But the club is encouraging members to try to hit from forward markers, which will be set up to reflect how far the average golfer usually hits a ball.

"It will bring into play things that were never considerations, such as different hazards. It will add to the thinking process. It will be fun," Garvin said. "If we want to make golf more fun, we've got to do different things."

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