The Plague of Slow Play

“Scots do not dally when they play golf.  From their opening stroke on the first tee to the last putt on 18, they play golf with an unerring determination to get to the ball, hit it, and move on…golf is what they are out to play and play it they will.” – Willis Copeland, http://www.theindependentgolfer.com.

I am not a fan of the current USGA “While we’re young” campaign aimed to, essentially, shame slow players to play faster.  To me it’s like trying to swat a fly with one piece of tissue paper instead of rolled up newspaper.  And while I admit I laughed at PGA Professional Ben Crane’s video where he poked fun at himself, I was also struck by the audacity of another PGA pro, Rory Sabbatini, who putted out and basically played the 18th hole alone in protest of Crane’s slow play.  All these belie a significant problem which I feel is keeping people from starting (or for many, continuing) to play the game.

If it was touring professionals alone, I’d be ok with this.  Their livelihood is at stake and their extended rounds mean more time on the couch in the winter to watch golf.  But public golfers are lemmings, ok, I am.  I try to dress like the late Payne Stewart or Ian Poulter.  I like that I can use their equipment and play the same courses they do (although I no longer try to play from the tips, but some will…not an insignificant issue in itself). The point is, we emulate their actions.  We grind over short putts, partially because modern course design provides risk of three putting from 4 feet and ready golf is not commonplace (among other issues).

I’m not radical in my beliefs; course marshals should not have tasers, and should not escort people off the course immediately.  But they should be empowered to effectively move play along.  And players should be aware of and ultimately responsible for the ramifications of their slow play.  I admire a campaign that Copper Creek, in Kleinburg, Ontario, has had, boasting a 4.5 hour round ‘guarantee’.  Another progressive alternative is to reward fast play.  The deep thinkers of the national governing bodies of golf can skirt around this all they want, but the issue is real, deeply problematic in my opinion, and requires some innovative solutions that need to balance a ‘carrot and stick’ approach.  And using a 14 year-old scapegoat at the 2013 Masters, in my opinion, is weak when the issue is much more pervasive.  Perhaps the “While we’re young” campaign needs to be aimed inward at the USGA.  Time and resources can be better utilized leading an action agenda toward solutions, creative and innovative ideas, not gimmicks likely to be lost on the most heinous offenders.  After all, we all impacted by the challenges around pace of play.  John Gordon of Canadian Golf Magazine says it best, “If you love this game, you will take a personal responsibility for it”.

I’m interested in your thoughts.  Is slow play really a serious issue for golf?  What is the greatest challenge that leads to slow play in golf today?

P.S. Special acknowledgement to an excellent article (pg. 11) on the issue of slow play in golf by Canadian Golf Magazine’s Steve Auger which inspired this post.

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One thought on “The Plague of Slow Play

  1. Good post.

    As a relatively good golfer, I must admit to having a few moments of frustration when playing behind groups that may not be so skilled. As Lorne Rubenstein points out I should just relax and enjoy more time in my favorite place. The pace will never be as quick as some might want it to be when there are golfers of all abilities playing at the same time.

    I do however think that pace of play is a hindrance to grow of the game. Today, people have less time these days for recreation. 5-6 hour rounds are a tough sell to people with families or busy jobs.

    There are many solutions to this problem:

    – Shorter courses
    – Better instruction
    – More education on the first tee
    – incentives for speedy play
    – Different scoring structures. (Match Play)
    – Longer tee time intervals

    I think to effectively tackle this problem courses will need to implement a combination of all these things. A single solution won’t work.

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