A golf tee is a small device used to prop up a golf ball. It is typically used on the first shot of each new hole during a game of golf. Golf tees are made in a highly automated fashion. The exact method depends on the material; however, they are generally formed or cut, then finished and packaged. First patented in the late nineteenth century, the design of a golf tee has changed only slightly. It is estimated that the U.S. golf markets use about two billion wood golf tees per year. With the expected increase in golf popularity, this number is expected to rise significantly.
While the basic design of the golf tee has changed little since the late nineteenth century, it has evolved significantly throughout the game's history. There are a variety of theories which suggest how and were golf began. The earliest evidence is a game similar to golf played by the ancient Chinese as early as 300 b.c. According to some, the modern game of golf finds its origins with a game played by during Roman times. This game called Pagancia involved hitting a leather ball stuffed with feathers. Others suggest that it was derived from the French game chole played in the 1300s or the English game cambuca. Both of these involved hitting a ball with a stick. The most direct ancestor to golf was a game called kolfspel played in Holland around 1295. This game required a player to hit a ball with a wooden club, or kolf, into a series of targets. To get a clear shot, players were allowed to elevate the ball on a tuitje, which was a small pile of sand. This was the first type of golf tee known. The modern game of golf developed in Scotland during the 1400s. By 1735, the first golf organization was formed. The first tournament was played in 1744. This tournament followed a set of 13 rules that became standard in 1754. The one exception was that a ball could not be placed on a tee to improve a watery lie.
In 1899, the first patent for a golf tee was issued to George Grant. Since this time a variety of innovations have been introduced. Some of these innovations relate to the tee's shape. For example, during the 1970s two patents were granted for golf tees that had unique designs which were supposed to help improve the flight of the ball. Other patents were issued for golf tees that stayed in the ground more consistently after the ball was hit. In the 1980s, an angled golf tee was introduced. The composite material of certain golf tees has also changed. For instance, a 1991 patent describes a golf tee made out of a biodegradable resin. Additional materials introduced recently include clay tees, tees made from corn, and tees composed of animal byproducts. Although more than 25 patents have been issued for improved golf tees in the last 20 years, the most popular tees still have the same basic shape as the ones first made a century ago.
Conventional golf tees are generally formed from wood or plastic. The primary wood used is cedar wood. One source is the red cedar, an evergreen conifer grown in the eastern United States. A variety of synthetic plastics have also been used to construct golf tees. Plastics are high molecular weight polymers that are formed through various chemical reactions. Most plastic golf tees are made using polypropylene or high density polyethylene (HDPE).
To make the primary raw materials easier to work with other materials are used. For example, fillers are added to change the plastic's properties. These fillers help control the flexibility of the plastic and make them more lightweight. They can even help make the tees less prone to breaking. For decorative purposes, colorants may be added to the plastic to modify the tee's appearance. Paint is used to coat wooden tees making them more attractive and weather resistant. Glue is also used for the production of wooden tees. Rubber has also been used to modify the characteristics of certain golf tees.
A variety of biodegradable tees have been recently introduced. One type of biodegradable tee is based on animal byproducts. By combining materials derived from skin, scales, bone, and soft tissue manufacturers have been able to produce an environmentally benign product that degrades automatically. Another type of biodegradable tee is based on a corn derivative. When this tee gets wet its molecular structure breaks down and it gets slowly washed away. Still other golf tees of this type are mixed with fertilizer and grass seed to improve their compatibility with the course.
A typical golf tee is a small, solid piece of wood or plastic with a wide, flattened head and a thin, pointed shaft. The head is grooved slightly to accommodate a golf ball. The pointed tip is designed to be inserted perpendicularly into the ground. The most common size for a golf tee is 2.125 in (5.4 cm) long. Tees are available in a wide range of colors including white, yellow, orange, light blue, pink, and green. Red, dark blue, black, silver, and natural are also available.
Another type of golf tee is an angled golf tee. This tee is designed to be inserted into the ground at an angle. The ball receipt surface is varied and can be more recessed or more perpendicular to the longitudinal axis. This golf tee can help reduce the effects of undesirable rotation that arises from contact with the head of the golf club. In this way, it can reduce hooking or slicing of the ball. Some tees are shaped differently to prevent disruption of the ball trajectory. Other tees have been invented to increase ball distance and improve accuracy. Some golf tees have adhesives applied to reduce rotational spin.
One problem with traditional golf tees is that after a player makes a shot, the tee takes flight with the ball and is lost. For this reason, golf tees that have a vented side wall are available. The venting is thought to minimize adverse effects of depressurization between the golf tee and the accelerating golf ball. The tee tends to remain stationary and the ball retains more of its momentum from the club. Another fix to this problem is found in golf tees that have barbs on their tips so they resist movement when the ball is hit.
For plastic tees, the most critical part of the manufacturing process is designing the mold. A mold is a cavity carved into steel. When molten plastic is introduced into the mold, it takes on the mold's shape when it cools. During manufacture, the mold cavity is highly polished because any flaw on the surface will be reproduced on the plastic. For making golf tees, a two piece mold is used. The pieces are joined together briefly to form the tee and then released. Special release agents are used to make the tee easier to remove. Steel molds are highly precise and can produce exact tees each time. When molds are designed, however, they are made slightly larger to compensate for the fact that the plastic shrinks as it cools
The process of making a golf tee can be broken down into three basic segments. First the raw materials are prepared. Next, the golf tee shape is formed. Finally, the golf tee is finished and put into packaging.
- 1 To begin the process of producing golf tees, the incoming raw materials must be prepared. For golf tees made of wood, this means that large logs are stripped of their bark and cut down to smaller wood blocks. For plastic tees, plastic pellets are mixed with colorants and other strengthening ingredients. The raw materials for biodegradable tees are mixed together in a large tank in the proper proportions. In all cases, after this step the starting raw materials are sent to the forming stage.
Forming the tee
- 2 In the forming section, the raw materials are shaped into tees. This can be done through injection molding or cutting. Injection molding is used for most non-wood tees. In this manufacturing step the plastic pellets are loaded into the hopper of an injection molding machine. They are passed through a hydraulically controlled screw and melted. The screw is then turned and the plastic is physically injected into a mold. Just prior to injection, the two halves of the mold are brought together. They form a cavity which has the same shape as a golf tee. The plastic is held in the mold under pressure and allowed to cool. While cooling, it hardens. The tee is pushed out onto a conveyor belt after the mold is opened. The mold is then brought together and the process repeats. Extraneous plastic is trimmed from the molded tees.
- 3 Cutting is utilized for wood tees. The wooden blocks run on a conveyor under a machine which carves out tee slats. These are shapes that look like one half of the tee if cut longitudinally from the head to the tip. The tee slats are then glued together like a sandwich to form a complete tee.
Coating and packaging
- 4 After the primary tee shape has been formed the tees are sent through other processing steps before being packaged. Wooden tees may be cut and shaped further to meet design characteristics. They are then sanded smooth. Plastic tees can be shaken and cleaned to remove residual plastic pieces.
- 5 The tees are then put through the decorating phase. Wood tees are coated with a weather resistant paint. They may then be passed through a lettering machine that paints on a company name or logo. Certain higher priced tees have the lettering engraved prior to painting. Plastic tees can have silk-screened lettering; however, this is more expensive and is typically not done.
- 6 The finished tees are then put into the final packaging. This can be a small plastic bag or a large box. To ensure that the correct number of tees are dropped into the package, they are first weighed. The bag is sealed and placed into larger cases. These cases are stacked on pallets and shipped to distributors.
The quality of the golf tees are checked during each phase of manufacture. Since thousands of tees are made daily, a complete inspection of each piece is not possible. However, using statistical models as a guide, production line inspectors randomly pull samples of tees at fixed time intervals. These samples are checked to ensure they meet size, shape, and consistency specifications. By following this sampling method, the manufacturer can determine the overall quality of the entire production run. The primary test method is visual inspection. Quality control workers check for things such as deformed, damage or improperly labeled tees. Additionally, more rigorous measurements can also be performed. Measuring equipment is used to check the length, width and thickness of each part. Typically, devices such as a vernier caliper, a micrometer, or a microscope are used. Each of these differ in accuracy and application. If a tee is found to be out of the specification range, it is removed and set aside to be remelted or reformed into a new tee. The machinery is recalibrated and tested in order to eliminate the defect.
With the continued growth in popularity of the sport of golf it is anticipated that golf tee manufacturers will try to improve on their product. Many of them have already introduced biodegradable products to help reduce the number of trees destroyed yearly and relieve the litter caused by the increased number of broken tees left on the golf course. One of the drawbacks to the currently available biodegradable products is that they break more easily than wooden or plastic tees. Manufacturers will no doubt address this problem in the near future.
Where to Learn More
Purkey, Mike. "Good Form." Golf Magazine (April 1998): 170.
Zumerchick, J. editor. Encyclopedia of Sports Science. Simon & Schuster MacMillan, 1997.