Red Tees: The Shortest Course

Golfer preparing to play from the red tees
Playing from the red tees. shadowstorm/Flickr/Creative Commons

"Red tees" is a term used by golfers — sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively — to refer to the forward-most set of teeing grounds on a golf course. If you are playing from the red tees, in this usage, you are playing the golf course at its shortest length.

"Red tees" is also often used as a synonym for "women's tees" or "ladies tees," as the difficulty of shooting from these tees is significantly easier than from the "black tees" and "blue tees" professional men's golfers use.

There can be up to six different tee colors used on golf courses, which vary by tournament and golf club, which are each used to signify a certain length of play on the golf course in question.

The Use of Colors to Designate Teeing Grounds

Golf courses use multiple tee boxes (the area from which you hit your drive) on each hole, usually designated by colored tee markers. If you play from the, say, gold tees on the first hole, then you'll tee off from the gold tees on each ensuing hole, too. Today, golfers might find four, five, six or more different sets of tees on each hole, each one designated by a color.

In olden days, it was rare to find more than three sets of tees. And the most common colors for those tees were red, white and blue, where red represented the forward tees, white represented the middle tees and blue represented the back tees — respectively, the shortest, medium lengthed, and longest courses a golfer must play during a match.

Modern golf courses can use any color they want for any set of tees; the red tees (if there even are red tees at a given course) could be front, middle or back, so it's best to check each golf club's membership rules to see which each represent at that particular club. Professional tours, on the other hand, rely on a standard set of tees, which are typically black, white or gold.

Red Tees As Forward Tees

Traditionally, red tees represented the forward tees, those which allow the golfer the shortest distance from tee-to-hole on the golf course. As noted, at one time it was by far most common to find three sets of tee boxes represented by red (forward), white (middle) and blue (back) tee markers.

In modern golf terms, "red tees" have become synonymous with "forward tees," and today that traditional meaning is still used by golfers — often even when a course doesn't literally have any red tee markers.

Playing from the forward tees means playing the golf course at its shortest length. Young junior golfers, beginners of all ages, many women and senior golfers play the forward tees, but all golfers have the option of playing them — if their skill level makes playing from the shortest-available tees most appropriate, they're more likely to have fun during a round of golf by doing so.

See our article on selecting the best set of teeing grounds for your game for some guidelines on determining the appropriate golf course length to play.