Time to think in 6’s instead of 9’s

Opinion – Time to think in 6’s instead of 9’s

Jack Nicklaus has likely forgotten more about the game of golf than I will ever know.  And with 5 or even 6 hour rounds becoming more prevalent on and off the PGA tour, he has proposed 12-hole rounds as an alternative, for recreational golfers anyway.  Golf is a very conservative pastime; change is slow, often deliberate and invariably well after its’ due.  And with national golf governing bodies feeling some fiduciary responsibility to grow the game, perhaps the deep thinkers simply need to have a conversation with Mr. Nicklaus.

Ask anyone who has played the game and they know a round of golf to include 2 sets of nine holes, an outward and inward nine, or a front and back. Personally, I’d be more of an advocate for golf being a 36-hole experience, but I am biased.  Let’s think more of Mr. Nicklaus’ idea.  12 holes is not necessarily such a radical plan, but likely is one which our planning bodies likely shudder at.  At the core of his argument, and why I support it, are two critical issues – increased participation and reducing the time required to play.  I base this on experience; my wife likes to play golf once or twice a year but gets tired and bored after…about 12 holes.

I see opportunities for public courses to consider operating two or three sets of 6 holes than it is more likely we could zip out after dinner on a Tuesday for a quick 6 holes, or, on a weekend with friends, a chance to play 12. With this format it is possible to sneak in 6 over lunch.  For diehards like myself, I could play my traditional round of 18, or, time permits I can sneak in another 6.  All this needs is a recalibration of our thinking…6 instead of 9.  Traditionalists can still get their 18 (or 36) holes in, and we can create space for social golfers who enjoy the game but shudder at the idea of a commitment of time and energy to play 18.

Let’s not overthink this. And more important, let’s listen to Mr. Nicklaus.  He knows a few things about this game we love.

The idea is not new. Derrydale in Mississauga, Ontario, has made the decision to alter their course to a 12 hole layout.  Also, Westwood Plateau in Coquitlam, BC, has a 12 hole Executive course too.


Proposed Items to Address Slow Play – Part 2

My first competitive golf event in 2011 had groups going off in threesomes. My round took an agonizing 5 hours 40 minutes to complete. And yet I am signing up to experience the highs and lows of competitive play again this September and won’t be surprised if the time to finish is similar. So I want to state the context around my issues with slow play; it is not keeping me off the course. I feel it keeps those considering playing, or people who may play occasionally from moving up to an ‘avid’ player. And as lovers of the game we can acknowledge it would be great if there were more like us!

These are items which I feel can be operationalized, communicated and legislated (as appropriate) to make the game more enjoyable, faster and engaging to more people.

10 Items to Support Proper Pace of Play (items 6-10) (click here to see items 1-5)

6. Course conditioning
One of the things we love about golf is also one of the largest culprits of slow play. We want to play courses that are excellent and difficult. We want to emulate the pros. But layout, and to a larger extent, course conditioning, plays an important role in the issue of slow play. Tight fairways, lightning fast greens, and a lack of safe places to miss on some holes are only three issues that superintendents can address to support pace of play.  But understand that tougher courses may simply take longer to play because they’re harder.

7. Penalize Pros.
Let’s be honest, the PGA Tour (and other golf tours for that matter) are the greatest enablers of slow play. They pay lip service to the issue but do next to nothing which means they have no problem with pace on play on tour and in the game of golf. Facts are, however, we’re not all PGA tour pros. Golfing is not what most of us do for a living and when 4 hour rounds become 5+ hours, we see a disconnect between expectation and reality and as such, are less inclined to make a time commitment that has no degree of certainty. Pros are part of the golf ‘food chain’; an important part. They are role models and the tour needs to acknowledge its responsibility and penalize slow players.

8. The Rules of Golf
Some rounds require people to card a score; there is a competitive nature to the game. Others need not require this. The rules of golf are set up as such that we’re all playing in the final round of a major. I support bifurcation of the rules and for equipment. Competitive play requires certain rules to be adhered to. Recreational play should have a more clear and easy to implement framework which will help speed play and keep the game fun. The RCGA rules of golf, as written down, prohibit my wife from having fun playing the game. I’m not alone here, and suspect that if the game was more fun for my wife I would be able play much more golf…often with her. Courses could make Sunday afternoon’s Family Golf time, with a revised set of rules aimed to support fun and a fair pace of play.

9. Teach Pace of Play
@AverageGolfer stated it well when he mentioned new players should get lessons immediately to learn fundamentals and pace of play tips. True, hard to legislate mind you, but golf’s governing bodies could consider developing (or better marketing) any introductory lesson packages for new players so as to make their experience more enjoyable. Nothing more disheartening I would suspect than learning the game, being slow, and feeling the pressure of holding others up.

10. Have Fun
At the heart of it all, we need to understand it’s a game. A game we love. There are times when we could be a culprit for slower play, these things happen. We can accept it and have fun or allow it to ruin our game. The steps above are meant to support a culture change and that takes time. Until then, let’s be respectful and mindful, but tolerant and enjoy this great game.

Proposed Items to Address Slow Play – Part 1

In my most recent post I shared my viewpoint around the issue of slow play which I feel is significant and will have a negative effect on the growth of the game. I say growth because players who play often do not like slow play, but tend to accept it. Max Adler’s Golf Digest article is spot on for me; slow play is an issue but does not stop me from playing (though it may keep me from playing as much as I would like). In my 20’s, my main barrier to the game was money and now, in my mid 40’s, my main barrier to play is time.

Here are some proposed action items to help address issues of slow play ultimately supporting a culture change in the game. It is not good enough just to talk about the issue; debate is healthy and positive but should always have an action component to it.

10 Items to Support Proper Pace of Play (items 1-5)

1. Align Expectation to Reality
The game takes time. People need to understand this. To play 18 holes on a full-size course is a commitment of time. Slow play can be a perceived result when reality is not aligned to reasonable expectation. However, if time is a concern, many courses offer 9-hole playing options. There are now some 12-hole courses in Canada as well as academy or executive golf courses which should allow for a quicker play.

2. Play tees according to handicap
This change alone could help transform the consistency of play. Golf courses in North America should make it standard practice for players to show their golf association handicap card and that would dictate the tees in which they would play off. No card means forward tees. No compliance means loss of playing privileges. This could be commonplace within a year.  Radical, perhaps.  But culture change needs a shift in thinking.

3. Forward Tees, not Ladies Tees
A good friend of mine suffered a stroke a few years back. On a trip to South Carolina many full size courses had tee boxes which made the course less than 3000 yards. Then they had their next set of tees around 4800 yards. We called the first set, ‘friendship tees’ which helped my friend considerably. He was able to play one-handed and compete at a level which suited his skills given his condition. A few others opted for the second set. There was no mention on the card or in our group of ‘Ladies Tees’. That term needs to leave the game now.

4. Incentivize Fast Play
Charlie Rymer mentioned this on Morning Drive on March 16 and it is an excellent idea, although not a new one. Courses can be creative to reward players who come in within a certain time deemed acceptable (and 4 hours 30 minutes should be the ceiling). We’re all used to reward programs now, so perhaps daily deals on food items at the 19th hole or earn points for discounted or free rounds? Either way, courses can do more to help move us along and reward us when we do! Some courses can promote times for faster play, some for more recreational play.

5. Let People Play Through
This is an issue of etiquette and respect. Things happen within a round. Wayward shots, lost balls, we’ve all been there. But the misfortune of one player or group should not hold back or bottleneck groups behind you. Waive them through at an appropriate place, such as once your ball is on the green. Marshalls need more authority to enable this and players need to be more respectful and courteous.

Items 6-10 will be posted soon.  I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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.