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Slow Play

If you have been directed here from my "Slowplaysucks.com" website, welcome to Retroman40s World.  I hope you enjoy your visit and please feel free to look around at the rest of my site.

Golfers don't generally agree about too much.  There is one area where you are liable to get total agreement among any group of players - it just takes too long to play.  Unfortunately, slow play is just like the weather - everyone complains about it but you can't do anything about it.  Maybe slow play is like death and taxes. 

Just like the song about rock and roll goes - slow play on the golf course is here to stay.  Can anything be done about it?  The answer is an unequivocal “yes”; the problem is that the solution(s) generally require golf course owners/operators and players to take actions that will most certainly offend some golfers.  Of course, without some serious changes to many players’ attitudes, nothing will happen no matter what.

There really is no consensus on what constitutes slow play.  It is important to remember that the slowest group on any course never has to wait to play.  In their minds there is no problem with slow play and everyone who is complaining has the problem.  I don't know how many times I've heard someone claim that "I paid my money and I'll play as I wish" of something to that effect.  In another section, I mention something about that 1% of players who mess it up for everyone else.  I'm talking about those people right here.

The biggest problem with slow play is that it is cumulative in nature.  Once you lose time you can never make it up.  You can't "go faster".

If you’re waiting to play, you tend to blame the group directly in front of you for slow play.  Unless the course is clear ahead, most times that’s like blaming the guy in the car in front of you for a traffic jam that extends a mile in front of you.  When you walk as many holes as I have, you see a lot of what people riding in carts miss.  At my course (and probably as a lot of other courses) the number one cause of slow play is searching for lost balls.  Sure, it can be irritating to watch some guy fiddle over a shot while you are waiting on the tee, but fiddling about adds seconds – searching for balls adds minutes and they add up quickly.  Of course it does continue to add up on the clock.

It only takes one or two very slow groups to foul up an entire golf course.  There is very much an accordion effect.  If group A takes an inordinate amount of time to play a hole, generally due to searching for multiple balls that have gone missing, groups B, C and beyond are continuing to play right until they are too close to the group in front of them.  At the same time, groups X, Y and Z (ahead of group A) are continuing to play and pull away from group A.  When group A finally finishes the hole, they have clear sailing while all the groups behind them are stacked up.  Since you can’t make up time, all waiting time due to group A is pure delay and lost time.

The second leading cause of slow play is quite simply people who aren't in any particular hurry.

I have (and it’s not as rare as you might think) seen groups of four guys that took more than 5 minutes just to tee off and get away from a tee.  I’ve watched a group of four guys (again, it’s not as rare as you may think) take more than five minutes to putt and leave the green.  Throw in a couple lost balls and it’s easy to stack up 20 or 25 minutes on a single par four hole.  Twenty minutes per hole is a six hour round.

If groups are started at a reasonable interval and play at a reasonable pace, there is a reasonable expectation that there should be no unreasonable waits for anyone during the course of play.  Here is where the difficulty lies; what is “reasonable”?  If you ask ten golfers you may get ten different answers.  I don’t think that a round of golf in 4:30 is in any way and unreasonable number (in case division isn't your strong suit, that’s an average of 15 minutes per hole).  I believe that if people were assured that if they started at say 10:00 that they would be done no later than 2:30 that there would be more people who actually played.  I also believe it is unreasonable to start groups at less than a ten minute interval with twelve being even better. 

The number of people who play from the wrong tee is amazing.  I am not a “big hitter” by any stretch of the imagination (my average tee shot is between 220 and 230).  I know on the courses where 200 yards is off every tee and it never ceases to amaze me the number of people who can’t hit the ball past 200 yards who insist on playing from back tees.  Maybe it’s a macho thing but all I see is a time sink.  They over swing and for every solid shot or two there is at least one in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being deliberate.  This is particularly true with what I refer to as "makeable" putts.  By “makeable” I mean inside 10 or 12 feet.  Even for top professionals, only about one in three 12 foot putts drop.  No matter what length, there is nothing wrong with taking at least as much time as you would with another shot; after all, a three foot putt counts the same as a 250 yard drive.

There is a crucial difference between being deliberate and being slow.  Around the green being slow means you didn't bring your putter with you or you don’t even start thinking about your putt until it’s your turn.

So, is there any hope of a solution???

So what can be done about slow play?  Plenty, but it will take some serious attitude changes for everyone from course operators to players.

Well first off, there shouldn't be "rough" on most courses.  When I have to search and feel lucky to find my ball a couple yards off the fairway, there is something wrong.  If there is one thing that course operators could do today to improve pace of play it would be to cut the entire course to under 1.6 inches (the diameter of a golf ball).  At my course, I would guess doing this would cut between 15 and 30 minutes off every foursome's time to play 18 holes.

The USCG pushes a program called "Tee It Forward" - this program needs to really be pushed at the local level.  Here's where the attitude of players needs to change.  Even with modern equipment, hitting the ball 200+ yards still requires a decent swing.  Somehow we need to get rid of the notion that you are "weak" if you play from a forward tee.  I am lucky; at age 54 I am still in excellent condition and can hit the ball easily in the 220-230 yard range.  I will assure anyone reading that if I start to lose distance as I get older that I will certainly be moving up a tee.  It just makes the game more enjoyable.

Course marshals need to be a little more proactive.  There is nothing wrong with taking your time, but if you want to play this way you should understand that not everyone wants to spend 6 hours to play 18 holes.  Course operators need to make reasonable pace of play a requirement.  At the same time, if people are meeting the pace of play requirement and you want to go faster, that's too bad.

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