Purpose of a golf tee
Everyone that plays the game knows what a golf tee is. As the name suggests, a tee is an object used to prop up a golf ball. Contrary to what a local shyster might try to convince you, these can only be used from the tee. With 18 appearances each round, these play an important role in your game. This brings up the question, plastic or wood golf tees?
Now more than ever we have the choice of varying size, shape and length. The real question comes when deciding to use plastic or wood golf tees. In terms of performance, there is plenty of debate. But, if you’re looking at things from a sustainability perspective, there is no more important question.
We’ll touch a little bit on the plastic or wood golf tee debate, but our main focus is going to be sustainability, if there even is such a thing. Guess you’ll have to keep reading if you want to find out.
History of the tee
The golf tee has been around almost as long as the game itself. The first recorded type of tee was a simple pile of sand. Golfers or their caddies would pack some wet sand together and place the ball on top. Simple enough. Nowadays we’ll do about anything we can to avoid the sand. Back then, it was the best they could do.
Rather than make a new tee each time your start a hole, golfers began looking for something reusable. It’s a bit embarrassing taking a breakfast ball as you start your round now, but imagine having to remake the tee before doing so? Ten times worse.
In the few hundred years since then, golf has seen countless variations of reusable golf tees. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Dr. William Lowell constructed the Reddy Tee that the modern golf tee took form.
In the last hundred years, we have seen even more variations of this same tee. In more recent years, we reigned it in and now have two options (and one choice): plastic or wood golf tees.
First off, wooden golf tees are not always made entirely of wood. It’s become increasingly common for wood golf tees to have other materials mixed in. Some of these are good for the environment, others are not.
In most cases, wooden golf tees are the cheapest option in a pro shop. At a course, a department store or online, there is a greater variety of wood golf tees available. For someone that plays only a couple times per year, you don’t want to buy a pack of 100 tees.
Instead, you just buy the dozen for a couple dollars near the cash register. If you play often, you can buy in bulk (at a reduced rate of course). The downside—they also break the easiest.
If you’re like me and try to conserve, you’ll carry a broken tee in your pocket for par 3’s and other holes that require less than driver. Don’t have one of these? Just play a par 3, you’re almost guaranteed to break one since such a large portion of the tee is below the turf.
In the golf worlds pursuit of a reusable tee, they concluded that a tee more difficult to break would be a good idea. Their solution is a plastic tee. Stronger and more durable than the wood tee, it seems like a nice solution. Reduce (use less in a round), reuse (doesn’t break as easy), recycle (more difficult).
With plastic tees, there is more consistency in shape and design. While you might occasionally get a wood tee that isn’t deep enough on top to properly hold a golf ball. A pronged design on plastic tees ensures this doesn’t happen. When you buy plastic tees, you know what you’re getting.
A wood tee might break on the first use. This doesn’t really happen with a plastic tee. A plastic tee user will tell you that it’s not uncommon to be able to carry a single tee in their pocket and use it the entire round—even on the par 3’s. When playing golf our pockets are cluttered, using plastic tees helps alleviate this.
What’s better for the environment?
Wood tees are better for the environment than plastic tees, and it’s not even close. Given everything we know about sustainability and protecting the environment, was plastic or wood golf tees being better for the Earth even a real question? To the blind eye, maybe. Regardless, it was worth a look into.
A wooden golf tee is biodegradable and will break down over a much shorter time than plastic tees. One of the bigger concerns with wooden tees is that when broken, they are left behind. Rather than littering tee areas, these broken pieces should be picked up and discarded of. Even though the materials will break down, littering a golf course doesn’t make it okay.
Features like painted lines or colored tees make these options less sustainable. Even so, they remain better for the environment than plastic tees. While natural wood tees are slightly better, it is easy to lose them in taller grass. They’ll break down, but again, you shouldn’t be leaving tees around. Keep an eye on your playing partners tee after they hit the ball, it saves tees, it saves the environment.
Other materials that are even more eco-friendly
There is a common pursuit of finding more eco-friendly resources for the golf community. Companies are coming up with innovative and sustainable ideas that might cost your wallet a bit more, but provide a great benefit to the planet.
Two materials leading this charge are corn and bamboo. Various pieces of the corn plant have been repurposed to form tees. Corn tees begin to break down almost immediately and even if discarded on the course, will be gone in about a year. They break easy, but hey, they’re gone quick. Bamboo tees also break down and also prevent the destruction of even more trees. Since bamboo grows so quickly, it is a renewable resource that will be back in no time.
Can plastic tees be sustainable?
Yes, absolutely, 100% plastic golf tees can be sustainable. Before we even get into the sustainability aspect of plastic tees, let’s take a second look at wood tees. Wood tees break. When a tee breaks, it needs to be replaced. The more tees that are broken, the more trees that need to be taken down to keep up with the demand.
The plastic material itself is not very eco-friendly, but using so few tees is. Like with naturally colored wooden tees, it’s possible to lose plastic tees. After continued use, they’ll also break. I’m not sure the exact breakeven point with how many plastic or wooden golf tees it takes to match the footprint, but one for one, wood is the way to go. If you’re able to use a single plastic tee for multiple rounds, it can be worth it.
Regardless of what type of tees you use, there will be some sort of ecological footprint. The point with looking for sustainable alternatives is to reduce it as much as possible. With more unique alternatives becoming available, we’re pushing towards complete sustainability on the tee.