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Fast Solutions for Slow Play

What can do about the tortoise-like pace out there?

By: James A. Frank

Slow play sucks! It is, without question, the single worst thing about golf. I don't care if I shoot 120, shank my chip shots, or whiff a tee shot: If the round gets done in under four hours (and preferably less than that), I’m pretty happy.

Other golfers don’t feel that way. They dawdle, drag-ass, and don't know how to drive their carts. They putt every green as if it’s the U.S. Open, sit until it’s their turn to hit, pace off distances trying to decide if it’s 152 or 154 (like it matters?), and walk off greens so slowly that moss must grow on their legs.

Notice that none of their actions involve the quality of play: It’s just as easy to play badly fast as slow. (I’m a big believer in “miss it quick!”) We should all play “ready golf,” which means being ready before it’s your turn. Keep the group ahead of you in sight (at worst they should be on the green when you’re teeing off on a par four), and regularly check behind that the next group isn’t waiting on you.

How hard is that? Obviously very!

I played five round in Myrtle Beach last week and found myself and my group regularly waiting during three of them. Our final round, at a well regarded local course, was torture. We were a walking threesome, bags on our shoulders, stuck behind two carts of totally clueless buffoons. Everything I decried above, they did, plus driving back and forth in the fairway and sitting on their fat butts for minutes at a time rather than walking 10 yards to the ball. But worst of all, they had to see us waiting on every tee and every fairway and still they farted around and walked off the greens, in unison, as if dragging a ball-and-chain.

While we waited—and, I kid you not, five minutes or more on every shot—we talked about fighting slow play. One of the guys made an interesting suggestion that has its flaws but is worth considering. His wants to charge each player a “slow-play deposit” before the round begins, which is returned only if the group finishes within a certain time. The problem, of course, is that those golfers stuck behind the slowpokes are penalized for someone else’s pace. Perhaps, but with $10, $25, or more at stake, I’ll bet the groups that are waiting will find a way to push the turtles along.

Know of any other effective slow-play cures? I like the clocks that many courses use, showing what time it should be when you reach a particular tee or finish putting out. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Ranger actually get a slow group to play faster: I understand that public-course managers don’t want to piss off paying customers. But what about those of us who have to wait? We’re pissed off, too!

I suggested that the 100 or so courses in Myrtle Beach—all open to the public—band together to work on slow play by informing and educating customers on golf etiquette and procedures. I’ve been to numerous golf schools over the years and taken more lessons than I can remember, and no one ever said anything about playing at a proper pace.

Someone has to step up and take the lead: PGA of America? Make fast play part of golf instruction. PGA Tour? Start by getting your own languid house in order. Augusta National? If you want to be thought of as one of golf’s ruling bodies, here’s your chance to do something important.

LINKS Magazine and I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. That said, in 30 years in the golf business I’ve seen, read, and been involved in quite a few campaigns to move golfers along, and few have had any effect. Maybe now, with participation flat and many courses less crowded than usual, we can experiment and see what works.

But it has to start with you and me. Email us your suggestions at letters@LINKSMagazine.com.

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