News & Opinion

GelTees allow golfers to play with clean minds

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Have you hugged a tree today? To, you know, say goodbye?

If you’re one of those Neanderthal golfers who still uses wooden tees, then you’re partly responsible for the 70,000 trees that are cut down annually to produce 2.8 billion tees, whose wood could be used to build more than 3,000 homes.

GelTees (www.GelTees.com) could fix that. Maybe you think you’ve heard the environmental sob story about biodegradable golf tees before, but you’re wrong. GelTees, unlike their predecessors, dissolve quickly in a matter of days, not months.

That’s because GelTees are made by Capsuline, whose main business is making capsules in pharmaceuticals. You know, the medicinal things that melt in your mouth, not in your hand?

There are two significant benefits from GelTees, which became available in January after having been in development since 2009 and are the only 100-percent biodegradable tees in golf.

First, there’s the fewer-trees thing. That can only be good.

Second, there’s the course-clutter angle. Wooden and plastic tees can be hard on mowing equipment, especially when the tees are left implanted firmly in the turf. Using GelTees is much better for the golf course superintendent’s machinery. Most wooden tees are painted or varnished, which slows their decomposition process.

The only downside to GelTees? They break on nearly every swing.

“You tee it up and the tee shatters. Whatever is left, you step on it and walk away,” GelTees chief executive Tiger Summers said. “The tees are made from remnants of the gel-capsule manufacturing process. The tee wicks moisture out of the ground and gets soft very quickly. Mowers would go through GelTees in their original state without batting an eye, but they get soft very quickly.”

For use on golf ranges, GelTees recommends washing the tee debris to the end of the range and letting the remnants go down a water drain because they’re essentially about to revert to gel.

In the modern golf-course profile of sustainability and environmental sensitivity, GelTees make sense. The two most prolific litterers in society probably are cigarette smokers, who flick their cigarette butts onto the ground without a second thought, and golfers, who discard broken tees with implied impunity. Neither party thinks it is being piggy despite the trail of refuse left behind.

“GelTees completely biodegrade within a few days of being left in the elements,” Summers said. “Products made from bamboo, untreated wood, cornstarch and sawdust can claim biodegradability, but they are not truly 100 percent biodegradable.”

GelTees did a test run at Cog Hill near Chicago during Earth Day activities and gave golfers free product samples. “A few guys said, ‘Whaddaya mean they break every time?’ but most of the players under the age of 30, especially kids, said, ‘Why aren’t all tees like these?’ ” Summers said. “It doesn’t make sense to kids that we’re cutting down trees to make golf tees.”

GelTees are so biodegradable that they’re even edible, Summers said, “Not that I recommend that.”

I tested GelTees for two rounds. Yes, the tees break, but that’s not much different than what happens with wooden tees in dry conditions and hard ground. Because tees are tees, the only adjustment I had to make was stocking my bag with enough of them. 

A package of 20 tees, about one round’s worth, sells for $1.99 at the company’s website. They also can be ordered in bulk and customized.

Go green. Your favorite tree will thank you. And maybe even hug you back.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle