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Tee Times Matter

Over the first two Pro Tour events, tee times has been a hot topic. There are several reasons for this, including a desire to be more professional, the relatively consistent
creation of feature cards, and the question of fairness. Let’s look at each of these in depth and try to determine an equitable and entertaining way to set tee times for the first day.
Here are several ways that tee times are currently set across premier events:

  • Random – Randomly select tee times. This is theoretically the most fair as it puts all entrants on an even playing field regarding tee times. There is no presumption of success or penalty for lack of past success. At the beginning of the event, everyone has paid their entry fee and is starting at the same score, therefore everyone should be treated equally. There is an egalitarian bent to this which is attractive.
  • Tour Points – The more Tour Points, or higher PDGA Rating, you have, the later your day one tee time. Nice and clean. There can be no questions about how players were placed on cards. Also, this could be done in conjunction with a Feature Card quite easily as we can safely presume that the players on the Feature Card will most likely have a good number of Tour Points or a high PDGA Rating.
  • Spread ‘Em Out – Let’s presume there are 40 players. The top ten players would each be on different cards (sometimes in order, sometimes randomly picked). The next players (11-20 according to Tour Points or PDGA Rating) would each be on different cards, and so on. This would put a player from each quartile on each card. This ensures that each card will be relatively similar and fair along the lines of card mate skill level. It also ensures that each below average player will get to play with one of the top players. Until this year, this is how the Vibram Open tee times were selected.
  • Auction – There have been events that raffled off either the opportunity to pick your tee time or else to pick who you got to play with. While this is a great way to raise money for the event, it seems both unfair to players that do not want to spend money to game the system as well as possibly making the chosen Touring Pro’s round a touch awkward, as they know that the person on the card paid for to be put on a card with them. Rather than have either of these be a possibility, at the Pro Tour level, we highly discourage the use of auctioned tee times.

Goals for Pro Tour tee times on the first day: Equity, Entertainment. The Pro Tour wants to create fair groupings while also creating at least one “super card” to highlight during the live coverage. There is a perception among many players that being on the feature card is advantageous. First, having a card of top players makes it easier to get in a groove with everyone playing well and feeding off the positive emotions. Second, top players may have sharper focus when there are cameras and hundreds of spectators following the card. Third, in many locations, the weather early in the day is often worse than the weather later in the day when the Feature Card plays. While the legitimacy of each of these can be debated, there is a perception that playing on the Feature Card is an advantage.
Perception is reality.We either need to be okay with players feeling like they have a valid complaint, or we need to address the complaint. The two ways we can possibly address the issue are to demonstrate categorically that it is false, or to adjust the way the feature card is handled. For the 2017 Pro Tour, the feature card is an important part of what we are building. It helps get people excited to watch through voting or simple publicity and it creates an expectation of getting to watch great golf. If at all possible, the Feature Card should be a 2017 Pro Tour staple.
Is it an advantage?There are positives and negatives to playing on the Feature Card. The positives are spelled out above. The negatives could include several long backups, intrusions and distractions from spectators, and more wind in the afternoons. There are many arguments of both sides of the discussion, let’s look at the numbers to see what bears out.
There have been six DGPT events that have had feature cards (Vib, Maj, Ldg, GMC, Mem, Waco). When we remove the extra players (local heroes and/or Am champs), who tend to play poorly due to the overwhelming pressure of playing on a Feature Card, here are the PDGA Rating number comparisons:

  • Players on the Feature Card shoot an average of seven points above their PDGA rating, about one stroke on a Par 60 course.
  • Players not on the Feature Card shoot an average of five points above their PDGA rating.

Wysocki and McBeth have both been on the Feature Card four times and they both did better than their rating twice and worse than their rating twice. While the numbers do not bear out any significant advantage, it is conceivable that some players would play better on the Feature Card, so perhaps some adjustments should be made.
Possible Adjustments.Please bear in mind that the creation of a Feature Card and/or how this card is picked, is completely at the discretion of the Tournament Director. The Pro Tour will announce guidelines for events to follow, the TDs can decide to follow them or not. During the off season, the TDs will review the data (scores vs ratings, viewership, perception of players) and will work with the DGPT and PDGA Competition Committee to develop a universal Tee Time standard for the 2018 Pro Tour.
First, whether the Feature Card is advantageous or not, we should definitely mix up who is on the lead card. Spectators will quickly tire of seeing the same handful of players and our goal is to build awareness of many players over the season. The Feature Card, much like the new Know Your Pro segment, is a great way to do this. I propose that players be able to be on the Feature Card no more than three (or four for players that have already been on it twice) times per season and that they not be allowed to be on the Feature Card at back to back events unless it is because they are the event champion. Over the course of the season, this would mitigate the first two advantage perceptions.
Next, the Feature Card weather advantage. There are two possible remedies for this. First, if the tee times are setup such that players with higher Tour Points and/or PDGA Ratings go off later, then the Feature Card advantage of teeing off last would be negligible. Second, presuming tee times are set via the Random or Spread ‘Em Out method, if the Feature Card tee time was set such that it is in the middle of all of the divisional tee times, this would also negate any potential weather advantage. So, we propose that the FPO and MPO Feature Cards either be arranged by Tour Points and/or PDGA Rating, or else the Feature Card tee time be placed in the middle of all of the other divisional tee times.
Lastly, the Pro Tour is still just getting started. There is a significant need for participation from regional Pros as well as Ams that want to test themselves on a bigger stage. One possible draw for these players is the opportunity to play with some of the top players in the world. This experience can genuinely be a cherished moment. I will always remember the first time I played a few holes with Ricky Wysocki. For him it was just another nine holes. For me, it was very cool. We get this, and we need to be cognizant that the possibility of this opportunity is a reason to play.
Final Thoughts and ProposalBearing all of this in mind, I propose the following tee time standards for Pro Tour events. These are recommendations and for some TDs, these contradict the method of tee time selection that they are planning on doing. That is okay. After the season, we will review the data and come to a consensus, moving forward together.
Tee Time Selection Proposal:

  • Feature Card with most recent champion that is playing with three card mates chosen by a spectator poll. The poll would not include any players on the previous Feature Card nor any players that have been on three (or four for those that played on the first two) feature cards over the course of the season. The feature card would tee off last.
  • Tour Points sort – three players per card would be assigned based on Tour Points. For example the 2nd Card (right before the Feature Card) would have the top three players in Tour Points, the 3rd Card would have the 4th-6th players in Tour Points. The 4th card: 7th-9th in Tour Points, and so on. This would be done for the top ten cards.
  • The remainder of the spots, including the fourth spot on the top ten cards, would be given out randomly.
  • Day One Tee Times should be set the Monday prior to the event unless it is not sold out. If not sold out, tee times should be set 24 hours in advance.

This system would allow for the Feature Card, while also letting the players that have the most tour points be able to tee off relatively close to the Feature Card, while also letting the bottom half of the players have about a 1 in 3 opportunity to play with several top players.