Tee Time: How Does Tee Height Affect Driving Distance?
AbstractIf you're an avid golfer, this might be a fun project for you. When you're setting up to tee off out on the course, how much attention do you pay to putting the tee in the ground? The height of the tee can affect both where in the swing the club makes contact and where on the clubface the ball makes contact. Are you placing your tees at the right height to get the most distance from your swing?
Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies
SourcesThis project was based on:
- Bastable, A., 2006. Tee It High or Low? Golf.com. Retrieved April 18, 2007.
ObjectiveThe goal of this project is to investigate how the height of the tee affects the distance of a drive.
To be a successful golfer, you need to combine distance and accuracy to get the ball from the tee to the cup with the fewest strokes possible. Drives on the fairway need to be long and straight. As you approach the green, you need to be a good judge of distance in order to select the right club to put the ball where you want. Once on the green, you need to be able to read its contours so that you can predict the ball's path in order to sink your putt. This project will focus on one aspect of getting the most distance and accuracy from your tee shot: the importance of the tee height.
The height of the tee can be an important factor in determining the point in your swing when the clubface makes contact with the club. If your club is further along in the upswing, you are more likely to get a higher launch angle. Many golf pros recommend a higher launch angle for increasing drive distance (Stachura, 2003; Zander, 1999).
Figures 1-3 (from Bastable, 2006) illustrate three different tee heights (low, medium and high) that you could try for your experiment. For the low tee setting, the top edge of the ball is just about even with the top of the clubface (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Golf club and tee at low height. The top surface of the ball is about even with the top of the clubface. (Fred Vuich, Golf Magazine, 2003. Used with permission.)
For the medium tee setting, the center of the ball is even with the top of the clubface (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Golf club and tee at medium height. The center of the ball is about even with the top of the clubface. (Fred Vuich, Golf Magazine, 2003. Used with permission.)
For the high tee setting, the bottom of the ball is just above the top of the clubface (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Golf club and tee at high height. The bottom surface of the ball is just above the top of the clubface. (Fred Vuich, Golf Magazine, 2003. Used with permission.)
Do you think that altering the tee height will make any difference in the distance of your drives? Which tee height will give you the longest drives? Do an experiment to find out!
Terms and Concepts
- Projectile motion
- Initial conditions when the ball is hit:
- Initial launch angle
- Club speed
- Spin rate
- How does tee height affect the initial launch angle for the ball?
- For a good article on the effects of tee height on drive distance and accuracy, see:
Bastable, A., 2006. Tee It High or Low? Golf.com. Retrieved April 18, 2007.
- Here are two articles on the importance of correct launch angle for achieving the maximum distance on drives:
- Stachura, M., 2003. "Why Everybody Needs to Try More Loft -- and That Means You!" Golf Digest, November, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2007.
- Zander, J., 1999. "Max Out Your Ball," Zander Golf (related article appeared in Golf Digest, February, 1999). Retrieved April 17, 2007.
- For more information on projectile motion and momentum, see:
- Henderson, T., 2004a. Vectors and Motion in Two Dimensions, The Physics Classroom, Glenbrook South High School, Glenview, IL. Retrieved April 12, 2007.
- Henderson, T., 2004b. Momentum and Its Conservation, The Physics Classroom, Glenbrook South High School, Glenview, IL. Retrieved April 12, 2007.
Materials and Equipment
- One golf club (a driver)
- Driving range with yard markers
- Golf tees
- Ruler for measuring tee height
- Two helpers
- For measuring the launch angle of your shots you will need:
- Video camera
- TV or monitor for video playback
- Plastic wrap
- Do your background research so that you are knowledgeable about the terms, concepts, and questions above.
- It's a good idea to call ahead to the driving range and ask for a good time to conduct your experiment (sometime when the range is less busy). You want to make sure you'll have enough room to set up your video camera so that you can measure the initial angle of the shot.
- Select three (or more) different tee heights to test. Here is one idea for setting the three heights (from Bastable, 2006; see photos in the Introduction section, above):
- For the high tee setting, adjust the tee so that the bottom edge of the ball is just above the clubface when the driver is resting on the ground.
- For the medium tee setting, adjust the tee so that the center of the ball is about even with the top of the clubface.
- For the low tee setting, adjust the tee so that the top edge of the ball is about even with the top of the clubface.
- Measure each of these tee heights in centimeters, after setting the tee with reference to the driver. Then use the measured height to set the tees for each shot.
- Have the first helper use a ruler to set the tee height for each shot while you look away. You may still notice the different heights as you set up to take your swing, but if you don't know the exact height for each shot, your swing is less likely to be affected. Don't focus on the tee height, focus on making a consistent swing.
- You first helper should mix up the tee heights so that the order of the shots is not a factor. For example, if you get tired your later drives might be shorter than your earlier ones. If you mix up the tee heights, factors like fatigue should affect shots taken from all of the different tee heights equally.
- Have your first helper record the following data for each shot:
- Tee height (low, medium, or high)
- Amount the ball deviated from a straight line, in degrees
- Later you'll add the launch angle data, from the video recording.
- Set up the video camera so that your second helper can record a good view of the ball as it is launched by the club.
- You want to be able to measure the initial launch angle by playing back the video. The ball travels fast, so you'll need a wide field of view in order to catch the ball.
- It's a good idea to take a practice swing or two, and then go back and review the video to make sure that you can see the ball as it takes off. That way you'll be confident that your video data will be useful.
- If you should happen to have access to a high-speed video camera, that would be even better.
- For each tee height that you are testing, hit at least 20 balls. For each ball you should:
- Stand at the same distance from the tee for each shot.
- Try your best to use a consistent swing. The speed of the club head and the angle of the clubface with respect to the ball should be the same (as near as possible) for each shot.
- Video record so that you can measure the launch angle.
- Measure the distance that the ball travels. Most driving ranges have yard markers that you can use for this measurement.
- It's also a good idea to note how much the ball deviated from a straight line. This will tell you how squarely you hit the ball.
- Here is how to measure the initial launch angle for each shot:
- Set up the video camera to play back on a TV monitor.
- Cover the screen with a piece of plastic wrap.
- Advance the video to the shot you wish to analyze.
- Use a marker to mark the starting position of the ball on the plastic wrap.
- Advance the video one frame at a time through the swing until the ball is hit and starts to fly. Mark the new position of the ball.
- Continue advancing one frame at a time, marking the position of the ball each time, until the ball leaves the frame.
- The initial positions of the ball should fall on a straight line. Draw this line.
- Measure the angle that this line makes with the horizontal. This is the launch angle for the shot.
- For each tee height, calculate the average launch angle and drive distance.
- Is there a relationship between tee height and launch angle?
- Make a graph of the launch angle (y-axis) vs. tee height (x-axis) for each shot.
- Make a graph of the drive distance (y-axis) vs. tee height (x-axis) for each shot.
- How does the distance vary with the measured launch angle?
- Compare the average straightness of shots at the different tee heights.
- Did one tee height have a consistently better distance than the others?
- More advanced students should also calculate the standard deviation of the launch angle and of the drive distance. Did you have a similar "spread" of launch angles for each tee height? Did you have a similar "spread" of drive distances for each tee height?
Ask an Expert
- Test various "performance" tee designs vs. wooden tees for distance, shot dispersion, or both. Examples of performance tees are:
- Brush t
- Zero Friction golf tees
- Consider paying for a club fitting session using ball launch monitor technology at a local golf pro shop. These use high speed photography to measure club head speed and the initial ball speed, launch angle, and spin. This data can be used to calculate the distance that the ball would travel. Combine the club fitting session with before and after driving range sessions to see if the ball launch monitor data helps you improve your drives.
- Expand your study to include more golfers. Do you get the same results?
- For a more basic golf-related experiment focusing on club selection and distance, see the Science Buddies project Golf Clubs, Loft Angle, and Distance.
- For another golf-related experiment that focuses more on the aerodynamics of the golf ball, see the Science Buddies project A Cure for Hooks and Slices? Asymmetric Dimple Patterns and Golf Ball Flight.
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