Joy of Golf: Slow play is fast turning into a major problem

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Accused of slow play: Gary Stal.

Where has been a lot of talk on pace of play lately. European Tour chief exe-cutive Keith Pelley singled it out as one of the biggest concerns of the Tour players when he addressed the media during the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, and promised that his organisation will be “the leaders in dealing with slow play”.

– Joy of Golf: McIlroy won crown, Sullivan hearts
– Australia: Home favourite Matt Jones takes crown
– VIDEO: The golf industry’s $113m wealth in Dubai

And last week, the Royal & Ancient, golf’s governing body, held a two-day conference in St Andrews solely devoted to the menace of slow play.

Martin Slumbers, R&A’s new chief executive, had this to say during his opening address: “The game has been getting slower for the last 20 years or so and it is correlated with participation.

“I think a lot of people hoped that self-regulation would work and that people would sort of correct themselves. But it is now one of the top two or three issues within the game, and I think it’s important we have a campaign over a number of years.”

Obviously, much of the focus has been on the professional tournaments. Slow play can be a major irritant for the Tour stars, but in the broader perspective, it is the amateur game that needs to be shaken up.

While the spectators, who are in any case committed to spending the day at the golf course, do not mind watching a five-hour round, it affects some players and the television schedule.

What it can do to players is evident by two recent examples on the European Tour – Rory McIlroy hitting the water on the 17th hole on the final day of the DP World Tour Championship after a 10-minute wait on the tee disrupted his rhythm, and Alvaro Quiros going ballistic at the Portugal Masters because of his playing partner Gary Stal’s deliberateness.

So, what can be done at the professional level? There have been calls for naming and shaming players who are repeat offenders. At the moment, most Tours impose a financial penalty on a player with more than two ‘bad timings’ in a round, but surely docking a couple of shots as a penalty would be a much better option.

There is also the logistical issue of how the players are timed. It would be difficult for the Tours to employ one official with each group, and that also goes against one of the greatest things about golf – the fact that it is mostly self-governed. That is where technology should come in.

In these days of RFID and GPS, it would be the easiest thing to place a small device in the player’s pocket that will pinpoint his position on the golf course to a square yard. And let there be just one official to monitor the progress of play in a central control unit.

While something like this can be done on the Tours, what about us regular club players? The menace of slow play is clearly bigger at the club level than on the Tour level. While there are just a handful of professionals who are slow, my own personal experience is that nearly 50 per cent of casual players take more time than normal.

Of course, this has more to do with playing ability rather than them trying to be deliberate. If you forget and pardon the occasional phone calls that people receive during play, simple calculation says you should be prepared for a 18-handicapper to take one hour more than a scratch golfer to finish his round.

Recent victim of slow play: McIlroy.

Most golf clubs will not be able to afford RFID technology, and in most cases, it would be useless. The only way to ensure that pace of play is maintained at the clubs is effective course management. The presence of just two strict and polite marshals on either halves of the golf course will actually be worth an investment for the golf clubs.

If they can get even one extra fourball on the golf course by gently nudging people, they would make more money for the clubs than their day’s salary, apart from increasing customer satisfaction.

Another thing these marshals can do is urge the members to use the right tees according to their playing ability. I have seen umpteen cases of casual golfers using tees that are not appropriate for their handicaps.

Forward tees not only exponentially increase the pleasure of golf, it will most certainly cut down the time taken to complete a round drastically.

Finally, what is required is the first step from both the Tours and the clubs. They need to take this as a priority and be a little ballsy – the Tours with some of their players, and the clubs with some of their members.

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Charley Hull has big ambitions in Omega Dubai Ladies Masters

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Huge talent: Charley Hull.

Teenage sensation Charley Hull will be hoping to add another first to her impressive resume when she returns to compete in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters at Emirates Golf Club next week.

– Joy of Golf: McIlroy won crown, Sullivan hearts
– Australia: Home favourite Matt Jones takes crown
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Hull was the youngest player to win the Ladies European Tour’s Order of Merit title in 2014, aged 19, just 12 months after being named Rookie of the Year.

She will be attempting to inscribe her name on the Dubai Ladies Masters trophy and become the tournament’s first English champion since its inception in 2006.

“It will be quite exciting if that happened to me. Being an Omega brand ambassador, it will mean a lot to me. But, I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself by setting goals,” said the 19-year-old from Kettering.

“I just take one shot at a time and I still have a lot to learn,” added Hull, who is part of a new national campaign launched to encourage more women and girls to take up golf.

The ‘#ThisGirlGolfs’ video, which also features Henni Zuel and Carly Booth, aims to raise awareness around women’s golf and stop a decline in female participation.

“I love Dubai and have some good memories of the tournament and that will definitely be a big help,” said Hull who racked up tied fifth and eighth in her previous two outings in Dubai.

“The (Majlis) course is amazing. You can’t relax, but you can hit your driver a little bit more around there. It’s good, and I really like the greens because they are very fast and firm.”

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McIlroy: Golf without Tiger "doesn't bear thinking about"

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Friends: Woods and McIlroy.

Rory McIlroy has said golf without Tiger Woods “doesn’t bear thinking about” after the 14-time major winner admitted he does not know when he will play again.

– Joy of Golf: McIlroy won crown, Sullivan hearts
– Australia: Home favourite Matt Jones takes crown
– VIDEO: The golf industry’s $113m wealth in Dubai

A downbeat Woods, who turns 40 on December 30, appeared before the media on the eve of the Hero World Challenge, the 18-man tournament hosted by his foundation, to announce he does not have a timescale for his return.

Woods said he has not been able to begin rehabilitation work for the two back operations he has had since his last start over three months ago.

Asked about his return, he told a press conference: “I have no answer for that. Neither does my surgeon or my physio. There is no timetable.”

Woods’ comments have led to speculation that his glittering career may be coming to an end, but he has received words of support from world number three McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman posted a photo of the pair together on Instagram, along with the words: “Wishing my idol and friend a speedy recovery. Golf without him doesn’t bear thinking about. Hope to see you back on the course soon @tigerwoods.”

Woods, who revealed video games have been one of his main pastimes, insists his hope is to resume his career and “get after it with these guys”.

But he also acknowledged that any good golf from now on would be “gravy” on top of a career that saw him ranked number one in the world for 623 weeks. He is now ranked 400.

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