Pacific Dunes #5 (Wood Sabold)

Little & Leeming: Golf's Two Biggest Names You've Never Heard Of

This article originally appeared on

If you're reading this, chances are you're not a tour player.

So why the heck are you playing an effectively much longer golf course than those players?

That's the question being asked by Arthur Little and Jann Leeming, who might just be the most important figures in golf you've never heard of.

This husband and wife have the ear of some of the world's greatest golf resorts.

As a result, they're helping make sure your next round - on vacation or at home - will be even more fun than you could have gimmicks required.

Why are these two so influential? Let me explain.

My dad is a 10-handicap, but he averages "only" about 200 to 220 yards off the tee.

Even when he plays from the 6,300-yard tees, he's forced to hit long irons, hybrids and fairway woods into almost every par three and par four.

Does that sound like fun to you?

Me, neither.

But that's the type of torturous golf experience that millions of amateur golfers put themselves through by playing the wrong tees.

Little and Leeming know all too well that golf is supposed to be fun - especially when you're on an awesome golf vacation (or just playing at home), rather than playing it for a living.

They have been key voices regarding one of the most important elements of some of the world's most famous golf courses: tee boxes, and why they might be the key to getting existing golfers to play more golf and getting new golfers into the game.

I had a chance to speak with Arthur Little a few weeks ago, and here's what I learned:

Bottom line: "Tee It Forward" is not just a slogan - it's a philosophy both golfers and golf courses need to adopt.

Yes, people have been criticizing the USGA lately over a couple rules-related controversies at this year's U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open.

But they were on the right track when they instituted the "Tee It Forward" campaign in 2011, encouraging golfers to move up a set of tees to shoot lower scores and make the game more fun and welcoming to new players.

But that responsibility does not lie with players alone.

Little believes golf facility operators and superintendents need to set their courses up in a way that makes the game more fun.

One of Little's guiding principles is that on too many golf courses - especially older ones - the front tee boxes are an afterthought.

For anyone who doesn't hit the ball very far (beginners, seniors, etc.) tees of 5,500 yards or longer are still just too long and difficult. And yet they've been commonplace. Until now.

Mike Keiser, owner of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, agrees.

After reading a paper that Little and Leeming published about proper tee positioning in 2007, Keiser applied their concepts to his Old Macdonald course during construction in 2010 (and to the resort's other courses, retroactively).

You won't find the traditional Black-Blue-White-Gold-Red tee marker color scheme at Bandon. Instead, the four main courses' markers are Black, Green, Gold, Orange and Royal Blue.

And at Bandon, all four courses' individual tee sets fall in a pretty tight range of yardages:

Black: 6,633 - 6,944 yards

Green: 6,124 - 6,320

Gold: 5,658 - 5,775

Orange: 4,985 - 5,100

Royal Blue: 3,827 - 4,040

Why the different color scheme?

According to Little, the association of "red tees" with "ladies' tees" is not a myth - it is actually stronger than most people think.

By doing away with the traditional tee marker color schemes at courses he's worked with, he and Leeming have noticed golfers putting aside arbitrary prejudices and moving to more suitable (i.e. shorter) tees, shooting lower scores, having fun and - perhaps most importantly of all - coming back more often to play. Juniors, ladies and men all enjoy the Royal Blue tees at Bandon.

And even though the Royal Blues are shorter, golfers still get the "full" experience of playing the Bandon courses.

Take the par-3 fifth hole at Pacific Dunes for example. It plays 181 yards from the Green tees and 115 yards from the Royal Blue set - an approximately 65% scale for the hole, which is mirrored in the course yardages throughout the Bandon Dunes courses and others where Little and Leeming have consulted.

Here's the view of Pacific Dunes #5 from the 181-yard back tee... (Wood Sabold)

...and from the 115-yard front. Two different but equally engaging looks at the same hole. (Wood Sabold)

That latter tee is set at an angle that allows shorter hitters, who don't generate as much backspin as stronger players, to run the ball up onto the green.

But, they still have to take care to avoid architect Tom Doak's cleverly placed bunkers. The hole may be shorter, but it is by no means a watered-down experience, as so many other front tees are at other courses.

Keiser was so impressed by the positive reception to the work at Bandon that he asked Little to consult on proper tee placement at his other properties.

The duo have also helped with tee arrangement at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, the vaunted Keiser-backed resort in Nova Scotia, making sure tee boxes are set at intervals that will be enjoyable by all visitors.

The same is true at Keiser's newest resort, Sand Valley in central Wisconsin. But rather than retrofit front tee boxes the way he did at Bandon, Little has assisted architects Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw from the outset in making sure the course will provide plenty of fun, as well as challenge, from day one. They are also assisting David McLay Kidd on tee placements for the second Sand Valley layout.

Mike Keiser's courses are by no means the only ones to benefit from Little and Leeming's expertise. They are just the latest in a project that began some 20 years ago.

Back in 1996, the couple became the owners of Province Lake Golf Course in southwestern Maine.

They noticed that despite the course's relatively modest length at 6,336 yards from the back tees, a lot of golfers seemed to struggle to get around the course, especially from the front sets of tees.

So in 2000, they repositioned and rebuilt 36 tee areas throughout the course, aggressively shortening some holes from the front tees. The new tee yardages rung in at 5,900, 4,900 and 4,169 yards, respectively.

The share of rounds played by women rose from about 15% to about 35%. Rounds by junior players rose from just a handful to about 7%, many of them new golfers.

Overall, the course's total annual rounds increased from about 8,000 to more than 20,000.

Little sold the course in 2005, but to this day it remains a successful public facility in an area of relatively low population density.

Just a couple weeks ago, Province Lake hosted its second annual Ladies of the Lakes golf tournament. 82 women golfers turned out.

The most tangible effect: now, pace of play is never a problem at Province Lake.

A number of buzzwords surrounding the concept of "growing the game" are thrown around constantly these days. But Arthur Little and Jann Leeming are among the few people in golf who have put a concrete plan into action and succeeded. As a result, they've been able to spread a great idea to many course operators and thousands of their fellow golfers.

But until Arthur Little and Jann Leeming visit your favorite course, here's what you can do to have more fun. (First, figure out your driver swing speed.)

The front-tee yardages that Arthur has helped courses settle on do not come out of thin air, but from a system he's developed over years of study of the average recreational golfer.

That system encourages golfers to choose what tees they play based not on how far they drive the ball, but their average swing speeds.

Now, before you protest, "But that's two versions of the same thing!", consider that the vast majority of golfers vastly overestimate their true driving distance capabilities. Just because you may hit one glorious drive per round 250 yards doesn't mean your true average driving distance isn't closer to 220 yards.

Swing speed, on the other hand, can be measured much more easily and accurately, and it doesn't change from round to round.

A lot of avid male "core" golfers seem to have swing speeds of between 85 and 90 miles per hour, which means they should be playing a set of tees no longer than 6,000 to 6,200 yards, depending on turf and weather conditions.

For instance, Bandon Dunes' Green tee yardages push a little higher than this range, but given the firm turf found there, players tend to get some extra roll on their tee shots, making the courses play shorter than their yardages indicate.

Does your swing speed push toward or past 100 miles per hour? Feel free to move back a bit, but don't overdo it.

Do you struggle to get above 80 or 85 miles per hour? Tee it forward! And if you find yourself stuck between markers, err on the shorter side or make your own hybrid set of tees. You'll have more mid- and short-irons into greens, more par and birdie chances and more fun, while still experiencing all the challenge a round of golf throws at you. Who wouldn't want that?

After all, you're playing golf for fun, not a living. So why make it harder than it needs to be?

Do  you "tee it forward" on a regular basis? Does your home course need to rethink its forward tees? Can this movement/philosophy help attract and retain new golfers? Let us know your thoughts below!

Jul 26, 2016

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John GD's avatar
John GD wrote at 2016-08-04 05:22:26+00:00:

I am 70 plus and my only play is top courses during annualish holidays.

I enjoy by playing by myself and playing 2 ball best ball for all shots.

John L Cassino's avatar
John L Cassino wrote at 2016-07-31 17:50:50+00:00:

what a great concept. changing the color or stereotypical tee markers makes all the difference. more fun equals repeat play. repeat play means more dollars for the establishment . Perfect. I instituted this concept for our golf league. As president, I had the shorter hitters play the forward/senior tee markers. works wonderfully

I Love Links Golf's avatar
I Love Links Golf wrote at 2016-07-29 02:10:08+00:00:

You must have been reading my mind. Just returned from 3 weeks of golf with my wife in Scotland. I love to play the old links courses, but unfortunately almost all the classic courses have the forward tees (i.e., Red) set only slightly forward of the yellows on the same tee box. This provides my short hitting (but always straight) wife an issue when she has to clear 150 yards of gorse and rough. Not enjoyable for her playing 5500-6000 yard courses - which means my opportunity to play these gems is also impacted.

Establishing more tee options on these courses would open them up to some many more golfers - something the game is desperately in need of to aid its economic viability, and in many cases survival.

Graham aged 78's avatar
Graham aged 78 wrote at 2016-07-27 09:29:23+00:00:

I do not understand this idea. If the fun of golf is hitting the ball and trying to improve I have twice as much fun as the average player as I am so awful, but every so often there is the reward of a really good shot.If I wanted to play a shorter course there is always the par 3.

cksurfdude's avatar
cksurfdude wrote at 2016-07-27 01:54:19+00:00:

LOVE IT!!! Totally and completely agree with this concept, and really really wish more recreational golfers would not only embrace it, but ... put it into action and PLAY IT FORWARD for themselves!!! I have - I often play from the Ladies' tee with my wife and hit a hybrid or iron.

Ed F's avatar
Ed F wrote at 2016-07-27 01:13:42+00:00:

This article is right on - far too many men play from tees that are too long for them due to the belief that they are the "standard", machismo, and peer pressure. In fact, at my own club I often play with guys who drive the ball 50 yds shorter than I do but refuse to play the forward tees. I also get resistance from my group if I play from shorter tees than they do because it "screws up the match". Golf is a game, not a death match, so why not play from tees that match your game so that you have a chance for par or even birdie if you hit some good shots?

Chris Branish's avatar
Chris Branish wrote at 2016-07-27 00:43:40+00:00:

I'm a 9 handicap, and that's mostly do to the fact that I try to play golf from the closest tees to 6000 yards, which usually is around the "white" tees. I dont hit it very long, but I do hit it straight, so if/when I'm forced to move back to some courses that have 6300, 6400 or higher white tees, it's really not fun, and believe me a lot of people question your handicap at that point ? I'm all for playing it at a length that's enjoyable and keeps the game moving along at a nice pace

K. F. Kline's avatar
K. F. Kline wrote at 2016-07-26 22:00:46+00:00:

What my group of Grumpy Old Men do when we travel is to play the 9 lowest handicap holes from the white and the 9 easiest holes from the blue and it's a test but still fun

Bill Patterson's avatar
Bill Patterson wrote at 2016-07-26 21:43:02+00:00:

I play over 100 rounds a year with two other retires,we play senior tees and play rounds in about 3 to31/2 hours. We wish everyone would play to there ability and ready golf! Five hour rounds just are dumb.

Paul Malo's avatar
Paul Malo wrote at 2016-07-26 19:55:10+00:00:

More courses also need to have cards which blend the tees. Our course has 4 sets of boxes but also blend the boxes thus creating 7 different sets of tees and slope/ratings. It helps a lot of us who don't completely want to move down to the "white" tee boxes or can't quite play from the tips.

AJ. La Course's avatar
AJ. La Course wrote at 2016-07-26 18:53:45+00:00:

Couldn't agree more . You can use this same philosophy on existing older courses that don't have the " correct" tee box. Chose any number of holes ( often we use 9) off the longer tees and move forward. Usually we pick by hole handicap but you can also use yardage difference. This concept can also be used between golfers of different abilities. Play needs to be enjoyable as well as challenging .

Glenn Camp's avatar
Glenn Camp wrote at 2016-07-26 17:54:54+00:00:

Longleaf Golf and Family Club in Southern Pines, NC have seven sets of tees and combos for another six all with ratings and slopes. They encourage hitting from the range to see which of seven pylons you drive it past (all colored and numbered). So if you drive it past Orange 4 choose between Orange 4 and White 5 or play 4.5 ( a combo). When US Kids bought Longleaf they rebuilt the range and added the tees necessary. It is a fun course to play and in the heartland of golf. They are making golf fun again for many.

Don Cwiklowski's avatar
Don Cwiklowski wrote at 2016-07-26 17:39:29+00:00:

My feeling is that most courses in my area were not designed with more than 3 teeing grounds, sometimes 4. Often there isn't a big jump on most holes between the traditional black, blue, and white tees, and then a huge jump to the reds. To properly adhere to this strategy,courses in my area would have to build new tees, and that won't happen since I live in an area where golf course land becomes houses.

Tom Wente's avatar
Tom Wente wrote at 2016-07-26 17:26:24+00:00:

Too often I see young players that can hit the ball a long way but couldn't find a fairway to save their soul. They of course play from the back tees. When paired up with them and see them go to the back tees I ask them if they are single handicap players some of them don't even know what I am talking about. This isn't just on public courses either. I have seen the same thing as a guest at private clubs.

Carla Smith's avatar
Carla Smith wrote at 2016-07-26 16:43:51+00:00:

Couldn't agree more!! Tee it Forward is what keeps me playing AND enjoying it. And believe me when I say Bandon Dunes forward tees do not make it an easier course, just a more reachable one for those of us who just can't hit it very far. After being sold on the idea I forced the issue at Bandon Crossings Golf Course (10 miles down the road from Bandon Dunes) into adding a forward Gold tee (4186 yards) so that I can play with single digit big hitters and still feel as good about my game as is possible. We also have lots of players using "Combo" tees that are much better suited for the average golfer. To anyone who is leery about trying it, take the advice to measure your swing speed, so you have another reason (and a justification).

Rich F's avatar
Rich F wrote at 2016-07-26 16:30:17+00:00:

Great article and an excellent way to make the game more fun. I applaud the work of Little and Leeming and hope others follow their insightful lead. I absolutely agree with changing the tee colors to eliminate any stigma. As another option, I also think it would be helpful for courses to acquire slope/stroke ratings for a couple popular "mixed" tee layouts. For example, at our home course the white tees are about 6,250 and the green tees are 6,700. That's a big difference, mostly manifested on 5 or 6 of the hardest holes. If a player wanted to play a 6,500 layout, all it would take is moving to the white tees on 5 or 6 of the hardest/longest holes. But, if you are keeping a handicap, doing that would give you a score you couldn't enter in the GHIN system. Sooo, get the mixed ratings measured, put the mixed tee choice(s) on the card, and encourage guests to try it.

I am a 3 handicap, but as I age my swing speed and distance have diminished, which makes course length an insurmountable challenge. I play with a few friends who don't hit the ball as far as I do, so last year we moved up to the 6,250 white tees. Even though it is only about 3 shots easier, it is amazing how much more enjoyable the round is for everyone, myself included. Is IS better to play a course at a length where you can reach the greens in regulation if you hit good shots, and it IS nice to hit many of those approaches with 7-SW instead of all long irons.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy playing the shorter tees until I signed up for the match play event and am now playing matches from the green tees. I made the mistake of scheduling a match last week on "superintendent's revenge" day, where 13 of the green tees were pushed back to the black tees (the green tees were probably 6,900), and the pins were all in terrible difficult locations behind traps, on the green edges, or on severe slopes. It was a great match that I won on the 20th hole, and I shot a better score than I thought was possible given the conditions, but it was not enjoyable to be faced with such daunting conditions on every hole.

I will say also that playing it forward doesn't solve everything wrong with golf. I believe that the USGA and R&A have permitted the game to be abused by golf ball technology, at great monetary and psychological cost to players and courses. Please dial the legal golf ball back, reduce the potential distances the ball will fly, and allow courses to shorten their layouts and save land and operating expenses. It is the same exciting game of skill and power even if the distances are all relatively shorter. Think about it - an MLB home run hit 400 feet is an awe-inspiring thing to see. Well, that's an 8- or 9-iron hit by a recreational golfer. You don't see MLB making massive changes to the equipment so today's players can routinely hit 600-foot home runs, leading to the need to tear down all the MLB ballparks, etc. Nope. Wood bats, same baseball, same field. Why can't golf figure that out? Does the USGA think it will be "better" if some day the drive can fly 500 yards with new technology? I'm all for perimeter weighted irons, and metal headed woods, but control the distances with the BALL and keep all the great courses relevant.

Doc PHIL's avatar
Doc PHIL wrote at 2016-07-26 16:18:13+00:00:

At 69 years of age, I enjoy playing the game by "teeing it forward ". Golf is a challenge for each golfer to play better while still being a game. Enjoy your favorite game.

Ric M's avatar
Ric M wrote at 2016-07-26 16:08:55+00:00:

Best way to enjoy your golf outing

Art's avatar
Art wrote at 2016-07-26 16:08:15+00:00:

Players the country over play tee boxes outside their ability. They don't understand the slope system, fail to accept the realistic distance of their average drive, and I suspect have a similar delusion about their swing speed. So with such little understanding of course difficulty and personal ability, how do people choose what tee box to play from? Ego. And you will never take ego out of the process. So until golf course tee boxes are set "properly" for 99% of the general public, slow play and exasperating weekend log jams will continue. I wish Arthur and Jann the best of success in their endeavor!

Jim's avatar
Jim wrote at 2016-07-26 16:03:44+00:00:

My home county course cares little or nothing for the tee it forward program. The forward tee boxes are small, often not level and basically dirt. They are building new red tee boxes but us seniors are left in the cold.

jason's avatar
jason wrote at 2016-07-26 15:28:25+00:00:

Lame - I don't want to play a mini version of the course. If I'm paying $270 to play Bandon I want to play the whole thing.

Rob B.'s avatar
Rob B. wrote at 2016-07-26 15:22:39+00:00:

"Tee it forward" is a great idea... except I see a lot of players who you would think should tee it forward not. Probably due to either pride or perhaps their playing partners are better and he doesn't want to hit from a different tee.

I see the biggest problem in golf is pace of play. Make courses shorter is one way to fix this (hence, "tee it forward).

However, pace of play could be greatly enhanced by architects designing tee boxes to be more forgiving for the less experienced golfer.

Putting a lake right in front of the white tees (the easiest "men's" tees here) only penalizes the new golfer. It takes time to re-tee, hit another ball in the lake (or two or three) before dropping on the other side.

Making courses with unnecessarily deep rough right in front of the tee or way off track, therefore causing delays because they're out searching for the ball all the time should also be architected out of courses where possible.

Clearly, all obstructions and hazards can't be cleared or avoided for the new golfer. However, I can't help but think that most courses are designed with the pro-golfer in mind and not the rec. golfers who power the industry.

Laura K.'s avatar
Laura K. wrote at 2016-07-26 15:09:24+00:00:

I break 90 playing 4800 yards or less. So much more enjoyable. I won't play some courses because I have to use driver on all the par 3's. I played at Prairie Club (Dunes) last month. Back nine had three par 5's, all over 500 yards, and ended with a par four at 433 yards. These forward tees were definitely an after thought. I wish more courses would understand the importance of forward tees. I will give high praise to Pete Dye. You can tell most of his courses get the female input from Alice Dye. Never played a course of his I didn't like.

RockyLaddo's avatar
RockyLaddo wrote at 2016-07-26 14:58:29+00:00:

Ever since I heard the term Tee It Forward, I have adopted the use of it wherever I could. It is no fun to play a 400+ par 4 with very little chance of making par. I applaud those golf courses who have provided these opportunities to senior golfers like me.

John Taylor's avatar
John Taylor wrote at 2016-07-26 14:54:46+00:00:

I could not agree more with this. I play at Turnberry a couple of times a year and always ask the starter which tees to use so that I can play the course the way it was designed to be played. The designer will have taken great care to give you a reward for a well placed tee shot. You can't place it where he wants you to if you are playing off the back tees where the pros hit from! Playing from there would be demoralising for most of us. I play off 2 and have no qualms at all about going forward so that I can enjoy my round. I despair when my own course places the medal tees right at the tips for competitions! It's so short-sighted.

Tim Gavrich

Senior Writer

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.