Why so slow?
Why all the fuss now? Q. This thing has been around for years and nothing’s really been done about it.
A. You’re right on both counts – and it's got a lot worse in the 50 years or so since Golf Digest launched the first campaign against it in 1965.
Why now? Well, only in recent years has the game in established golfing countries gone into decline. A recent survey (by The Golf Club Secretary) of over 1500 golfers from different countries showed that 95% of them are concerned about the effect slow play has on golf ( the other 5% must have a lot of time! ).
Q. What else did the survey show?
A. It showed what these golfers perceived to be the main causes - all 26 of them - in order of priority. The behaviour of players accounted for 9 of the top 10 sins. The only one for which we do not blame each other is depth of rough - over which players have no direct control.
Q. OK. Better player education and effective marshalling takes care of all that then?
A. Hold on, not so fast! Those remedies have often been tried, and they do have a beneficial effect. But the problem hasn’t gone away – and current thinking is that it’s more complex than we imagined.
Q. Who’s doing the thinking?
A. Many people, especially in the USA where the problem is arguably most acute. Two leading experts are Bill Yates and Lou Riccio , well worth checking out. But perhaps the most significant thing is that the USGA have recently acknowledged the game is in trouble - in February 2013, they announced their Pace of Play initiative:
This breaks the problem into four parts – the USGA is analysing them but is not yet ready to offer a full range of solutions. The parts are :
- Course design (overall length, green-to-tee walks, location and number of hazards).
- Course management and setup (green speed, hole locations, height and location of rough).
- Player management (most significantly, the proper distribution of starting times and elimination of bottlenecks on the course).
- The effectiveness of player education programmes.
Note the focus on course design and course set up – both of which point the finger back at a too-powerful ball. And, by implication, the USGA and The R&A.
Q. When will the USGA report?
A. They’ve already listed many things that clubs can do to help themselves.
But the relative importance of factors such as overly-quick greens, difficult pin positions, overall course length etc. have not yet been fully quantified.
Q. Surely though, in the end of the day, most of this boils down to players to sort out?
A. Well, that’s what we’ve always been led to believe. But, going back to that survey, of the remaining 16 perceived causes, there are 13 which players do not control. In truth, these need much more evaluation and we suspect there are some mega culprits in there. And the elephant in the room is, of course, the distance issue caused by the ball.
Anyway, let’s not beat ourselves up about all this until we really know the full picture. One final point: golf should be played at a sensible pace – but not an uncomfortable one. Golfers should not be hounded into rushing their valuable leisure time – it’s up to facilities to focus on what they can do to alleviate the problem, as well as golfers and the game's authorities.
Q. If we can work out ways of successfully speeding up play, will that resolve the issue?
A. No, it might not. Because the first question to ask in modern day living is this: how much time can I spare to play a round of golf?
And that will vary enormously – the retired golfer may have all day to amble up to his club, potter around the course, then shower and eat in the clubhouse. Good luck to him or her, they’ve earned their leisure.
But for the young man or woman with a career and family to juggle, it makes precious little difference whether the round takes four or five hours. It just isn’t on in the first place. At the very least, the whole golf thing - getting there, playing and getting back – must fit into the window of a morning or an afternoon. Not a day.
Q. What’s the ideal time frame?
A. Our view is that five hours is a maximum for the whole experience – and if we allow an hour for travel etc. then the golf itself cannot take more than four hours. Three hours would be even better. Shorter courses and non-medal play have much to offer!
If we fail to hit these marks, then the game puts itself beyond a big section of the population in any country. Improving Pace of Play is not just about giving more enjoyment during a round; it’s also about allowing the game to appeal to more people. We don’t want people to leave the game. We want REAL golf, a game to enjoy.