There’s plenty of science involved, but when it comes down to it, teeing up your ball—particularly the question of just how high to go—is really more of an art. It’s true, there is a general rule of thumb: the longer your club, the higher your ball should be, but so many other factors come into play that there’s no simple means of calculating the perfect tee-up height. Here are some considerations.
First, think about the playing conditions. If the winds are up and you’re worried about controlling the ball’s trajectory, think about teeing it lower to the ground. This will help you hit it lower down on the club and, hopefully, keep it down below the tree-line, where the wind is less of an issue. Hitting it this way can also produce more backspin, which should help with control as well.
On the other hand, when the sky is clear and the wind is down, you might want to tee up a little higher than usual. That way, you’re more likely to connect the ball with the top of the club to really lift it high. Less spin in this position means less control, but it also means more distance. On a fair day, it’s a fair trade. Remember, though, these are minor adjustments only. A half an inch up or down can make a world of difference to the loft on your drive.
Of course, the correct golf tees’ height also depends on your intentions and position on the course. A higher tee position, for example generally favors a draw, while a lower position favors a fade. On a par-3, a lot of players prefer to push the tee all the way down into the earth until only the crown shows. This is better than simply putting the ball on the ground because it will sit more reliably on the tee, but it will also give you the full advantage of having a low-teed ball. On the other hand, if you’re playing a par-5, for example, and looking to get some real distance, you’ll probably want to tee up considerably. This should give you the upswing you need, particularly if you move your stance forward a bit.
The most important thing, of course, is to get a sense of yourself and your own game. Each player has his or her own idiosyncrasies and even controlling for body size the perfect tee height for me won’t necessarily be the perfect tee height for you.