In golf, a tee can refer to the area where you hit your opening tee shot on any hole…or it can be the little piece of wood or plastic that holds your golf ball off the ground so you can hit your tee shot.
If you’re not already confused, let me try a bit harder. In the earliest days of the game, golfers crafted tees with their hands from little heaps of sand. The sand was kept in little boxes called tee boxes…which gives us the historical perspective and gets us back to where we started!
The first patent for a tee is dated 1889 and was issued to Scotsmen William Bloxsom and Arthur Douglas for a tee that rested flat on the ground with a raised portion to prop up the ball.
In 1892, Percy Ellis of England invented the first rudimentary tee to pierce the ground. Seven years later, Dr. George Franklin Grant, an African-American dentist, obtained a patent for a wood cone with rubber sleeve to support the ball but it was never marketed.
Dr. William Lowell, Sr. invented the first commercial tee in the 1920s. Called the “Reddy Tee,” it was a simple wooden peg made of white wood with flared red tops so they were easy to find in the grass. Lowell hired professional golfers Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood, Sr. to promote the use of the tee during exhibition matches.
Today’s tees are made of wood or plastic and come in a variety of colors and spaces to personalize in some cases. There are anti-slice tees, friction-free tees, brush tees, flexible tees, and even bio-degradable tees.
While I don’t recommend it for longer holes, you can probably still use a little heap of sand for your tee but the USGA says that for a tee to be legal, it must be no longer than 4 inches, not designed to indicate the line of play, and not influence the movement of the ball or otherwise aid the golf stroke.
I’m partial to a tee with contrasting color measuring lines so I’m certain that my ball is teed to the same height every time.
Looking for new tees of your own? Check the Haggin Oaks Golf Super Shop for many, many choices!
By Frank LaRosa, a popular Northern California radio and television personality and golf writer who has chronicled the game and industry across multiple platforms since 1988. He currently produces and hosts a daily golf radio feature for Sports 1140 KHTK called “Golf to Go.” He has hosted a series of Emmy nominated golf programs for KVIE television called “Tee Time: Golf in Northern California.” He has written about golf for numerous print publications including NCGA magazine and Sacramento Magazine. His work in golf has garnered him numerous accolades including induction into the Sacramento Golf Hall of Fame and California Golf Hall of Fame, Honorary membership into the PGA, and he is a three-time winner of the Northern California PGA Media Person of the Year award.