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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Slow Play - Keep It Moving People!

The USGA's new President, Glen Nager has been vocal recently about the curse of the game in America, namely slow play. It was the main topic in his recent speech at the USGA annual soiree and he was quoted as saying:

"Slow play has now become one of the most significant threats to the game's health" and "six hour rounds threaten to drive players away from the game"

Well, let's ignore the fact that new players are not coming to the game, so presumably he is talking about existing golfers leaving the game. But his point is well made, that slow play in America is an epidemic within club golfers. A recent experience highlights this fact - A group of us were at a wonderful golf course in the Pinehurst area, Tobacco Road. Now, we are all reasonable players and in front of us were two groups who literally could not hit the ball and despite our protestations with the clueless marshalls no one was asked to leave, no one was let through, no action whatsoever. And so after 5 1/2 hours for 13 holes we walked off. We raced to the airport, likely never to return.

This is fascinating on many levels.

1. How does a golf course not kick off players who can't actually play?
2. How does a golf course allow guys making $0 manage the golf course?
3. How does the Pro not know what is going on when his 0730 is still not in the clubhouse at 130?

Growing up playing golf in England and Scotland, it was the norm to walk the golf course comfortably in 3 hours. During tournaments (in the days when I could actually play!) rounds would creep up to 3 1/2 hours. This is still the case in the UK, the land of fewer carts, cheaper golf and less GPS devices.

So, the question is what happened and when did times start creeping up and up and is anyone to blame? And what can be done about it? Well, here are some random musings on these questions.

There's no doubt the professional tours are in part to blame - Tour players continue to take an age and the Oxford shirts at PVB just will not discipline anyone, even though everyone knows who the culprits are. Can you believe the last guy to get fined a shot was Glen Day (also known as All Day!) in 1995. Twenty years and no one has been out of position, not one...amazing!

I didn't grow up playing in a cart and for me it is THE worst possible way to play the game. I get it - they generate revenue and some people do need them. But if you have 2 good legs, get off your xxxx and walk - it's quicker and healthier. More and more clubs are giving players the option to walk or take a pull cart. And don't tell me carts are quicker than walking - they aren't!

I would posit that US golfers have considerably less knowledge of the etiquette of the game than those in other countries and this impacts the speed of play dramatically. No one is questioning your manhood if you let some one who is playing faster - everyone wins and yet is really happens here.

Maybe the "clubs for profit" model is to blame? Squeezing more tee times into an hour just to drive incremental revenue. Again, that model doesn't exist at most clubs in the UK as they are private member clubs without tee sheets and designed to end the year with $1 in the bank. They will gladly accept outside play, even at the very best, such as Muirfield, but you better keep up with the group in front or you really will be politely asked to leave.

Some organizations in golf have been trying for many years to address the problem addressed by Mr. Nager. Namely the American Junior Golf Association who have a strict tournament policy of ready golf, move onto the next tee when finished, tee off when you are ready regardless of who won the hole - all of which have contributed to them cutting 30-45 minutes from playing times and made for a more enjoyable game. I wish clubs would adopt a similar model - maybe the AJGA should rollout their tournament model in conjunction with the USGA to clubs across the country?

I think we all know there is no silver bullet here - it is going to take a concerted effort from everyone to speed up play and to make the game more enjoyable for playing partners and those behind you! It's great that Mr. Nager has chosen to highlight this huge problem during his tenure and use some of the USGA's considerable resources to create greater awareness and hopefully some practical solutions.

I have been vocal on this subject before - You can read my slow play blog from April of last year - The Curse of the Game and 5 Culprits here)

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