Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Raise your hand if you’re a fast golfer

By Mary Armstrong  published in the Las Cruces Sun News – 3/26/2011

A year ago, in one of my first articles for this column, I wrote about the “Bogey Boogie”.  It was my take on speeding up a round of golf.  I tried to show there was nothing magical or even uncomfortable about fast play.  My take was, and continues to be: you just need to focus on being ready when it’s your turn to play.  Really, there’s no need to invent new methods and certainly not to run, as I have seen some do, although a brisk walk would be appreciated. 

Golf etiquette isn’t so much about being nice to your fellow competitors as it is a prescription for everyone’s enjoyment of the game.  “The overriding principle is that consideration should be shown to others on the course at all times.” This statement is taken from The Rules of Golf Section l Etiquette.  For the average player, knowing etiquette is perhaps even more important than knowing the rules.  In fact, many believe that novice players should be introduced to the game through its etiquette.

In Sweden, a player must be certified before he/she can make a tee time.  The certification isn’t just a basket-weaving course either.  It requires classroom work, an examination and a lesson from a golf professional. 

“Back in the day”, we would play on weekdays with a foursome in about three hours to three hours and fifteen minutes.  Weekends might stretch out to three forty five, but we would never dream of playing in four hours.  Things have changed.  Today, it’s hard to find anyone that could imagine playing a round of golf in under 4 hours.  The problem has been analyzed to death, but the fact remains, three million golfers walk away from the game each year and slow play or the amount of time it takes to play a round are among the leading reasons.  There are approximately 20,000 golf facilities in the United States.  So, on average there are 150 players that leave for each course in the nation.  It’s doubtful that every one of these patrons are avid players, but even if you assume the players that quit would play only half dozen rounds per year, that amounts to over $30,000 in lost revenue.  Add in carts, an occasional pro shop purchase, beverages and a sandwich after and you’re talking some real money.  In this economy – in any economy for that matter – the golf business can’t afford to lose that kind of money.  But, there must be a cost – right?  Otherwise golf operators would have fixed it. 

One factor is the “I’m fast – you’re slow syndrome”.  A few years back, GolfDigest.com conducted a survey to rate a respondent’s perceived pace of play versus other golfers:

Q: How would you rate your own pace of play?

Fast: 57.8 percent

Average: 37.4 percent

Slow: 4.8 percent

Q: How would you rate most golfers’ pace of play?

Slow: 56.2 percent

Average: 41.8 percent

Fast: 2.0 percent

Dean Knuth, former USGA handicapping expert and Golf Digest writer, says that he has interviewed slow groups.  What he found was that groups that were at least one hole behind are largely unaware that they were slow or they didn’t care – duh! 

The fastest group on your course can only be as fast as the slowest group on your course.  If people knew how to let faster groups through, this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, but since the last time I went through a slow group was at least a decade ago, maybe we can eliminate that as a factor.

Actually, it only takes about an hour to play 18 holes, which is to say the actual playing of the strokes.  The rest of the time – 2 ½ to 4 ½ hours is what Knuth calls “logistical positioning” or getting to the next shot and selecting the right equipment.  So, it is this “logistical positioning” that has the greater opportunity for improvement.

Knuth observed this about male versus female groups:

“Two days spent following groups at Torrey Pines outside San Diego and a day watching resort golfers at Pebble Beach showed that average men are as likely to be slow as high-handicap women. A short-hitting woman typically will walk right up to her ball and hit it again. The slow-playing men were very deliberate on every stroke, often taking two or more practice swings. They would stand and watch each shot until it stopped and then slowly put the club away and move on. When I approached them to say that I was from the USGA and that I had determined that they were a slow group, they were shocked. Typical response: ‘I’ve never been told that I’m slow, and I don’t believe it.’ Or there was indignation: ‘I paid good money to enjoy my round, and I deserve to take as much time as I need.’ ”

Apparently being labeled as slow is hideous, but not hideous enough to do something about it.

Next week: What can be done about slow play.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

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