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

Joy Chakravarty 11:16 03/12/2015
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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”.

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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.

Quote of the Week

“I think this year we’re going to approach it as a fifth major and we’re going to prepare like it is and I’m going to go down there and try and take care of business” – Jordan Spieth on how he plans to approach the Olympic golf tournament in 2016

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