The Great Length Debate with Golf Advisor’s Tim Gavrich

Play button Pause button
by Ian Guerin

The Great Length Debate

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | Tim Gavrich has inadvertently become a beacon for fast play proponents. That was never really his intent. In trying to find a common ground in a game frequently struggling to do just that. the Golf Advisor senior writer’s October 2018 piece suggesting that players stop looking at course yardage [A modest proposal: eliminate total yardages from scorecards] started up a conversation that many common players have either previously not thought of or refused to accept. Gavrich was speaking more generically in that column; however, he is quite familiar with the Myrtle Beach golf scene. He recently took some time to speak with us about some of his ideas – ranging from Pros vs. Joes, the PGA of America’s Play It Forward campaign and why traveling golfers need to look at more than just one figure on the scorecard before making up their minds on rounds and tees.

MYRTLE BEACH GOLF TRIPS: We’ve spent so much time lately talking about the pros when it comes to pace of play. Do you think that is more or less important than addressing it with Joe Golfer at the moment? 

TIM GAVRICH: Doesn’t it make sense that amateur golfers who want to improve should emulate the pros? Well, yes and no. Jack Nicklaus has said that he never hit a shot in competition until he was absolutely ready, and so the rest of us golfers take cues from that approach. But the difference is that Nicklaus was playing for tons of money, under considerable pressure that very few of us will ever understand. When the rest of us stand forever over a shot, all that happens is we get more tense and anxious. That’s a recipe for disaster. The saying “Miss it quick!” is more useful to the rank and file.

MYRTLE BEACH GOLF TRIPS: Do you believe the average player is trying to bite off more than they can chew most times they go out to play? If so, does the game need to be a little easier for the majority?The Great Length Debate

TIM GAVRICH: Especially in golf destinations like Myrtle Beach, golfers tend to write checks their golf swings can’t cash. I’ve seen many average golfers justify playing the tips by saying, “I want to get my money’s worth!” or “I want to see the whole course!” This has never made sense to me. All those golfers usually get is beaten down by the course. Dear double-digit handicapper: don’t forget that you’re on vacation. Why set yourself up for misery on the course by playing the tips? Why not try and make a few birdies? Don’t worry – you’ll still make some bogeys, and you’ll get to see how good (or bad) your short game is.

MYRTLE BEACH GOLF TRIPS: Do you think something as simple as the Play It Forward campaign can make a huge difference when it comes to that?

TIM GAVRICH: Play It Forward is fine, but I don’t know that it’s a silver-bullet solution to slow play. On a lot of golf courses, tee shots tend to congregate in similar areas no matter what tee box they’re hit from. When I play up a tee set, I’m mostly hitting shorter clubs off tees, and more or less the same clubs into greens. I don’t think that’s the goal of the initiative. That said, golfers should experiment if they feel like they’re hitting tons of fairway woods and hybrids into holes, and moving forward enables them to hit the same clubs off the tee and shorter clubs into greens. When that happens, there’s a stronger case for moving forward.

MYRTLE BEACH GOLF TRIPS: What is your ideal length on an average course? 

TIM GAVRICH: There is no such thing. I’ve played 7,000-yard courses that felt short and relatively monotonous, and 6,300-yard courses that felt pretty long and I hit every club in my bag. I’ve played 7,000-yard courses I felt were very scoreable, and I’ve played 6,300-yard courses that ate my lunch. Remember: that big number at the end of a scorecard is the sum of 18 inputs that can vary big-time in the way they’re arranged. It’s a bad approximation of how the golf course plays. Furthermore, weather and elevation and other factors can make that 7,000-yard course play really short and make that 6,000 yard course seem really long. In a vacuum, instead of total yardage, I would encourage golfers to look at the par 3s for guidance on tee selection. Does it look like you’ll have to hit fairway woods on two or more par 3s? Then you should move up a tee. Another good rule of thumb is to refer to the set of tees you play at home. If you play the third-longest tees at your home course, you should probably play the third-longest tees on courses on the road, even if the total yardage looks short to you. Yardage is a small factor in what makes a golf course challenging.

MYRTLE BEACH GOLF TRIPS: Thinking about Myrtle Beach specifically, do you believe more courses will or should address pace of play in the coming years? The Great Length Debate

TIM GAVRICH: I think maintenance over time has a much bigger impact on pace of play and general enjoyment than potential efforts to get people to play the right tees (I’m always amused when courses push their tees forward in order to combat players playing too far back). Over the decades, I’ve seen greens and fairways shrink considerably on many area courses, which really hurts pace of play. Tee shots that should have caught the edge of a fairway in the past are now swallowed up by rough. Fairway bunkers have big, inappropriate buffers of rough around them. Approach shots that would have been on the green or the fringe are now in the rough. This demoralizes players and makes them think they’re playing worse than they probably are. It also does a disservice to the architect. Wherever possible, I’d love to see superintendents err on the side of making fairways too wide, and keeping greenside sprinkler heads within a club length of the edge of the green. Fewer hacks out of encroaching rough will mean sustainably faster rounds. This is a phenomenon everywhere, but particularly in Myrtle Beach in my recent experience.

MYRTLE BEACH GOLF TRIPS: How do you counterbalance the ego hit of moving up (your buddies making fun of you) with maybe a player’s comfort or performance level? Is it time for the game as a whole to adjust its thinking via the individual courses? Or is the status quo some place we should stay?

TIM GAVRICH: Anyone ridiculing their fellow golfer for playing his or her chosen set of tees shouldn’t be listened to. I happen to be a low-handicap player, so I’m comfortable at the tips at a lot of courses, but I don’t have the remotest expectation that anyone play there with me if they’re not also a lower-handicap player. That’s why different sets of tees exist – to encourage players to play a version of the course they’ll enjoy most.

For more of Gavrich’s ideas, you can visit

Ian Guerin is a DJ and freelance writer based in Myrtle Beach. You can follow him on Twitter @iguerin and Facebook