In many ways, the tee box and its layout is the beginning of the golfer experience.

From the golfer’s perspective, after they arrive in the parking lot, pay their greens fee and hit a few putts on the practice green, the beginning of the round is significantly influenced by the specifics of the first tee box. In many instances, a golfer has time to notice all aspects of this particular part of the course while waiting for the group ahead to finish teeing off and start down the fairway.

The many aspects of a tee – the playing surface, identifier sign, access from the cart path, size or shape, ball washing equipment and surrounding ornamentals – appeal to users of the course in different ways, but all are important from a design and maintenance standpoint. Taking a closer look at each is a prudent management activity.

A pleasing balance of aesthetics and function.

Function and aesthetics

For some, this is an “either/or” concept – it either functions well or looks pretty. Depending on the situation, actually, it could be either/or, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

For example, if the budget is really tight or no one on the green committee is interested in aesthetic appeal, it makes sense to deemphasize the flowers, shrubs and trees and focus on aeration, topdressing, fertilization, irrigation and pest control. On the other hand, if stakeholders are really into the botanical garden look, (and want to pay for it) perhaps the approach is more along the lines of Lotusland.

Getting to know the program statements or guiding principles of the course will help bring clarity to the desired balance between the two. It’s a lot like one of the last lines of the movie “Trading Places,” where Eddie Murphy asks Denholm Elliott, “Hey, Coleman, what about lunch, the lobster or the cracked crab?” and Coleman’s new girlfriend answers, “Can’t we have both?”

If members and philanthropic league activists are requesting a balanced golfscape, the answer is yes, we should have both.

Areas behind tees can be converted to low-maintenance or no-mow locations in some cases.

Maladies prevention

It’s much easier to prevent various maladies than to correct them, regardless of their nature. Curing problems on a tee is akin to pushing a lopsided rock up a steep hill, as my colleague John Watkins says. In the true sense of the word, maladies are conditions caused by pests – pathogens, nematodes, insects and weeds – as well as undesirable scenarios related to abiotic factors such as compaction, wear, excessive shade, wind, inadequate traffic flow and extreme weather.

Every golfer tees off, and thus, every golfer creates wear on the tees. Wear can be limited by directing traffic flow. For the most part, this is a function of the size and shape of the tee, as well as the access points from the cart path. In both cases in terms of wear reduction, the more, the better.

Large tees that have the capacity for multiple tee setups, where the tee markers can be moved from point to point in a given week, are desirable since they allow for recovery before returning to the starting point. Of course, the larger the tee, the more time and effort is required to maintain it.

Frequency of play also affects the necessary size of a tee. Tees with several access points from the cart path tend to wear less than ones that funnel most or all of the traffic through a limited space. All in all, a sweet spot, or happy medium can usually be created in the goal of limiting wear.

An unfortunate, ever-present malady, often related to wear, are annual and perennial weeds. Many weeds such as goosegrass and prostrate knotweed are seemingly unaffected by compacted soils and wear stress. Due to the low height of cut allowing sunlight to penetrate the soil, and divots made by golfers, weed seed is given the opportunity to germinate and contaminate a tee. The watering practices required to encourage healthy turf growth tend to favor the development of weeds as well. As with wear, the size of the green and access points often influence the extent of a weed infestation.

Having both is certainly an appropriate consideration when it comes to turf pathogens on tees. No doubt about it – the foliage of trees and shrubs can limit the air flow across the turf surface, which increases the potential for foliar diseases to become established. If diseases have been a problem in the past, a reasonable control measure in many situations is to remove that which decreases air circulation.

A common question that arises in relation to air circulation is “can’t we just prune the trees and shrubs?” The answer is: “It depends.” Pruning otherwise healthy branches and stems reduces the overall photosynthetic capacity and, therefore, the health and vigor of the woody plant.

When the solution of pruning is brought up by stakeholders, it’s best to consult with an ISA-certified arborist to create a plan that will solve the turf disease problem but have minimal undesirable effects on the ornamentals.

Access from the cart path can either limit or enhance wear patterns.

Generally, turfgrass is considered a full sun plant. However, in many cases, trees planted nearby shade the tee for only short portions of the day, allowing for adequate functioning of the turf plants.

Again, this tends to be a balancing act, where shade is a desirable feature for golfers sitting on benches or their carts while waiting to tee off, especially on a hot summer day. As well, trees can provide essential screening from errant golf shots that may be in line with another golf hole. Golfers who are lining up their shot are usually focused on the fairway in front of their tee, not shots another fairway. Overall, some, but not an excessive amount, of shade can be desirable.

The elevation or height above surrounding turf surfaces can also play a big role in the performance of a tee. The considerations with elevation are drainage and desiccation. Both water and air drainage affect turf on a tee. Depending on the prevailing wind patterns, tees can be overly or underexposed, causing a drying of leaf tissues and major stress on the plants. Comparisons between various tees on a course can be an informative practice in this regard.

In today’s litigious society, it’s prudent to evaluate the stability of trees near a tee. Tree defects such as cracks, decay, co-dominant leaders, basal root flare issues and girdling roots may not always be evident. As with pruning, consultation with a certified arborist is wise in relation to corrective actions or outright removal.

Shade for part of the day can be positive for golfers as long the turf still thrives.

The goal in relation to liability prevention is to balance the need for shade and screening with the prevention of catastrophic tree failure, associated unwanted lawsuits and bad public relations.

Functional considerations for tee boxes are important as well. Given the price of labor to maintain a tee, it makes sense to design it such that it can be mowed, trimmed and cared for in an efficient manner. One such maintenance component is the placement of benches, water coolers, ball washers and tee markers. When these elements are in the middle of a turf sward, string trimming is required to keep them functional and aesthetically pleasing. When they can be designed into another element that requires minimal maintenance such as a mulch or rock bed, the time for trimming is reduced.