Tiny Golf Tees Can Send a Big Message

Updated August 2014

Compared to all of the big ways we impact the environment, how can something as small as a golf tee really matter? Well in the grand scheme of things it’s a small impact but it sends a message and is yet another indicator of our wasteful habits. One of the things I love most about golf is getting outdoors with the green grass, trees, ponds, streams and fresh air. It’s that feeling of being out in nature and playing a game. When you step up to the tee box you often see dozens of broken wood and plastic tees littering the ground. Sometimes there’s an empty basket where golfers are supposed to deposit broken tees, it rarely happens! We just don’t like to bend over, pick up broken tees and deposit them in the trash. While golf tees are a small piece of a much bigger picture, they can be a great reminder to pay attention to the environment around you. We NOW have a golf tee product that’s actually good for the grass, saves trees and oil and is about as earth friendly as you can get.

Just How Big is the Environmental Impact
To size up this issue we searched the Internet to uncover the real facts on golf tees. As you can imagine we ran across a wide range of sometimes-conflicting information. Below is a summary of the facts that we believe to be most accurate.

Key Golf Tee Facts:
How many rounds of golf are played each year?

According to the National Golf Foundation there are nearly 500 million rounds of golf played each year in the U.S. There were 28.6 million golfers in 2008.

What is the breakdown of wood tee and plastic tee use?
A PGA Magazine article stated that 90% of the professional tour golfers use wood tees. Our conservative estimate is that about 80% of recreational golfers use wood tees. That means 400 million rounds of golf are played with wood tees in the U.S. each year.

How many wood tees are used in a round of golf?
Again there are many different estimates out there ranging from 4 to 8 wood tees per round. A number of articles have quoted Golf Magazine’s estimate of 7 wood tees per round, which seems reasonable to me.

How many wood golf tees are in a tree?
Searching the Internet, I found many estimates ranging from 3,000 to 200,000 wood tees per tree. The estimate that made most sense to me was from a November 2005, Golf Digest article. It broke down the actual dimensions of a full-grown White Birch tree and how many board feet of wood it contains. The conclusion was about 40,000 wood tees per tree.

How many trees are used to make wood golf tees each year?
The Math:
400 Million rounds of golf X 7 wood tees per round = 2.8 billion wood tees in the U.S. alone.
2.8 Billion wood tees at 40,000 tees per tree = 70,000 trees per year.
You can almost double these figures for worldwide estimates.

Validation Data Point:
According to their website “Pride Golf Tee is the world’s largest manufacturer of wooden golf tees, thanks to a state-of-the-art technology that enables the Company to produce billions of tees per year.” Our numbers seem to be in the right “ballpark”. They also state that all of their tees are made of White Birch.

How fast do White Birch trees grow?
Unfortunately these trees don’t grow very fast. According to an article on SIMCOE.COM “Birch trees reach their maturity in 60 to 70 years and live for as long as 150 years. They can grow up to 80 feet tall.” Cutting down 70,000 trees a year when they take 60+ years to mature eliminates a lot of wildlife forest habitat for many years. Even with replanting, it will take a decade for the tree canopy to grow enough to support significant wildlife.

The Earth-Friendly Option – Golf Tees Made From Wheat
We now have the opportunity to use a product that actually helps the environment when we’re enjoying a round of golf. Wheatware of Grand Island, Nebraska makes wheat-based products as an alternative to wood or plastic, saving trees and oil. Lets take a look at the pros and cons of golf tees made of these materials:

Wood tees are low cost and durable but they're made from slow growing trees, often harvested from virgin forests. They are biodegradable but most are painted which slows down the decomposition process.

Plastics tees are low cost and very durable but they’re made from oil and can take decades or even centuries to breakdown. This adds to our already enormous plastic litter problem. Click here to read a shocking article about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and our plastic litter tragedy.

Wheat tees are made from a sustainable farm crop and will bio-compost into fertilizer in a few months. They are durable but cost about a dime each, which is a little more than a typical wood or plastic golf tee.

Introducing Simple Ecology Earth-Friendly Golf Tees
We are making wheat-based golf tees available to you on our new Simple Ecology Store. Now you can have an easy way to be earth-friendly on the golf course for just 25 to 50 cents more per round. With a round of golf costing $40 to $200+, it’s a small price to pay. After all, ONE good golf ball will cost around $2.  Earth-Friendly Golf Tees are a perfect gift for golfers and send a great earth-friendly message that even the little things can make a big difference. Happy golfing!

2014 UPDATE:  The Earth-Friendly Golf Tee was our first product and helped launch the Simple Ecology brand of eco-friendly products Since 2009 we have added extensive product lines of reusable bags and kitchen tools.  We discontinued the golf tee in 2012 but it's still available directly from Wheatware along with many great biodegradable products made from wheat.