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Stopping Slow Play…It Starts with the Golf Course

by Jeff Skinner

This month the Golf Channel has spent plenty of time devoted to the problem of slow play that has haunted golf for years.  June is “Slow Play Month” on the Golf Channel and we have seen Charlie Rymer and Matt Ginella poke fun at themselves in those “Knucklehead” videos.

There are many ways we players can speed up play on the course and there is plenty of blame to go around but let’s stop blaming the PGA Tour Players and the USGA.  First of all those guys play for a million bucks and while five and a half hour rounds are way too long there’s no way they can get around a tour level course in four hours.  The U.S. Open is one week a year and the mission is to test the best golfers and by no means is this going to be a tournament that encourages a quick round of golf.  But for the regular, casual round of golf there are many ways to improve pace of play.

The first place to start is with the everyday players of course, play ready golf should always be the rule of the day.  But there is one area that I have not heard much discussion about that can very well set the tone for pace of play: the golf course management.  They are in charge of the course, the players on it and they have the ability to control the pace of play.

A few weeks ago I played at a very high end, semi-private course.  It was a great course with a very good reputation and as far as the course itself, the reputation is well deserved.  And its clientele is fairly well heeled.  The parking lot was sprinkled with classic Mercedes, a few Rolls, and even a rare sporty Bentley coupe.  But what happened on the first tee is symptomatic of why slow play continues to plaque the game.

My buddies and I had an 11:10 tee time and as we putted around on the practice green that sits next to the first tee we heard the starter call out for the 11 o’clock group.  So we know we are next and prepare to get our carts on deck at the tee.  But I see another pair of carts pull up ahead of us and after I asked one of that group what tee time he had I got a sheepish reply,”11:05.”

Really?  11:05…are you kidding me?  Immediately I knew what had happened.  There are plenty of members with money at this club and money talks.  So I figured Dr. Rolls Royce called up and wanted to play and then maybe Mr. Bentley showed up without a tee time and needed to get in his eighteen.  And the course knows where the butter on its bread comes from so they accommodated the good doctor and Mr. B.

And my suspicions were confirmed by the ever so transparent starter who knew immediately that we were upset about the delay in our tee time, especially when you are forking over $130 for the right to stand around waiting in the on deck circle.

Here was his explanation and I appreciated his candor.  “Sorry guys, but you have just been squeezed.”  That is, another group has been “squeezed” in between the regular allotted tee times.  I ran my theory past him and he said that’s exactly how it works around here.  The members pay big bucks to play here and the course always accommodates their unscheduled requests even though it frustrates players and starters alike.

Then the starter goes into his routine about the rules of the course and blah, blah, blah and he finishes with the line”… and our pace of play is four hours.”  I couldn’t contain my laughter and asked him how many “squeezes” there were this morning.  And he, being a really nice guy and probably too honest for his own good said this was the third “squeeze” so far.  And it’s only 11 o’clock.  A four hour round on a tough course with another three groups squeezed in hardly seemed likely.

I thanked the starter for his frankness and we went ahead and teed off.   So we all took a few deep breaths, reveled in the glorious day we had for golf and played our round of golf… in four hours and forty five minutes.   And we were “squeezing” the group ahead of us on every hole.  So much for four hours.

We can talk all we want about the player’s responsibility to speed up play but when the course insists on putting too many players on the course the die is already cast before we put a peg in the ground.  It’s everyone’s responsibility to get rid of slow play and that means the golf course too.

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