Telomerase enables telomere length homeostasis, exhibiting increasing preference for telomeres as their lengths decline. This regulation involves telomere repeat-bound Rap1, which provides a length-dependent negative feedback mechanism, and the Tel1 and Mec1 kinases, which are positive regulators of telomere length. By analysing telomere elongation of wild-type chromosome ends at single-molecule resolution, we show that in tel1Delta cells the overall frequency of elongation decreases considerably, explaining their short telomere phenotype. At an artificial telomere lacking a subtelomeric region, telomere elongation no longer increases with telomere shortening in tel1Delta cells. By contrast, a natural telomere, containing subtelomeric sequence, retains a preference for the elongation of short telomeres. Tethering of the subtelomere binding protein Tbf1 to the artificial telomere in tel1Delta cells restored preferential telomerase action at short telomeres; thus, Tbf1 might function in parallel to Tel1, which has a crucial role in a TG-repeat-controlled pathway for the activation of telomerase at short telomeres.