February 8, 2013
There is absolutely no truth to the notion that if four hours of golf is fun, taking even more time to play 18 holes should be even more fun.
Not long after I began playing this game, a buddy and I drove over the Delaware Memorial Bridge to Salem, New Jersey to play the Wild Oaks Golf Course. The 27-hole course wasn’t expensive, and still isn’t today.
At the time, however, the folks running it took a remarkably ill-considered approach to managing the dozens of golfers showing up for their early Saturday morning start.
They assigned golfers to begin play on all three sets of nine holes, all at once. This wasn’t so bad for the first couple hours, except for the usual delays that often plague public golf courses.
These included players whose self-esteem was far more evident than their actual skill at golf, as well as those who simply refused to let faster players through.
I may not be that great a golfer, but I can miss ‘em quick.
The real problem with this approach to scheduling occurred as we finished the ninth hole. We joined a large crowd of other golfers who had just finished playing either the second or third set of nines. The resulting double booking for our back nine led to a 90-minute delay between the ninth hole and the tenth tee.
The day’s round took seven and a half hours.
As we trudged home, we agreed not to ever try playing Wild Oaks on a Saturday morning, ever again—and we didn’t.
I don’t know if Wild Oaks changed their starters’ philosophy in the years since then, but the United States Golf Association is still trying to speed up the pace of play on the nation’s golf courses. On Feb. 2, the USGA announced a series of initiatives aimed at doing something about this issue.
The organization’s press release quoted its executive director, Mike Davis: “It is appropriate for the USGA to examine pace of play issues in part because we experience them at our own championships. Six-hour rounds are just not good for the players, our championships, or the game. Slow play is also incompatible with our modern society, in which our personal time for recreation is compressed. This is an issue that demands our complete attention.”
The various components of the initiative include several elements that look promising. They will analyze key factors known to affect the speed of play, including course design, course management and set-up, the proper distribution of starting times, and whether player education programs regarding pace of play are beneficial.
The USGA’s Research and Test Center is gathering “quantifiable data” from several sources, including the PGA Tour’s Shotlink system. They expect the data to assist in understanding how these key factors affect the game, on a course-by-course basis.
Since 1993, several courses have adopted the USGA’s Pace Rating System, noting the expected playing time on the scorecards. The USGA expects the Test Center data to help refine these pace recommendations for participating courses.
The USGA’s Turf Advisory Service will also reach out to course managers for on-site visits, aimed not only at the agronomic elements on which it usually concentrates, but also how those elements affect pace of play.
On this issue, for example, I can see the Service encouraging harder, faster fairways, which can both reduce watering costs and speed up play.
The organization will also continue its ongoing support for the Tee It Forward campaign, along with other public relations efforts to involve golfers in their own process of improving the pace of play.
For example, they now suggest that golfers pick up and move to the next hole, once the Equitable Stroke Limit is reached on a given hole. Other efforts could include reminding golfers of alternatives to stroke play, such as match play and foursomes, as well as promoting “the nine-hole round as a viable option for golfers who are pressed for time.”
None of these proposals are especially novel, but the combined efforts of all of them couldn’t come at a better time—as it were.