November 23, 2009

Slow Play Is Not Just Irritating, It Actually Hurts The Game

My last word on slow play for a while:

All too often, it takes almost six hours to play a round of golf on a public course -- and that's only from the first tee to the 18th green. Add in travel time to and from the course, warmup time, time putting on the practice green and of course waiting to tee off behind a line of other golfers, one might spend seven or more hours "golfing."

I tweeted about it last week, while waiting on my course behind some guys who had no business playing Eagle Ridge. Their games just didn't qualify them to play a 133 slope course...but there they were, hitting seven, eight or nine shots (before penalty strokes) to get to the green, and once there, each of them had to line up their two or three putts as if they were a Tour player with something serious on the line. Meanwhile, we got to know the foursome behind us, and even the foursome behind them. That's because we were bunched up on too many tee boxes, all waiting our turn to hit.

Why the rangers didn't police these players is beyond me. The fellow on duty that afternoon is a friendly guy, an older gentleman undoubtedly looking to make a little extra cash on the side -- or perhaps earn some free rounds himself. Thing is, whatever his reasons, he had a job to do, and he wasn't doing it. Instead, he was chatting on his cellphone, wondering if the Carolina Panthers had held a late lead against Atlanta in a pivotal game for...well, nothing much. This I know, because he was beside our teebox chattering while we were attempting to finally hit our shots after waiting fifteen minutes.

We finished that round using our cellphones as flashlights. While we were putting out, someone sailed a ball onto the green and nearly hit one of us.

That round wasn't fun, it was a marathon. More accurately, it was a slog, actually, and several times I came close to calling it a day and walking back to my house. I'm a member there, and fortunately, when I usually play, it's either when other members are the bulk of players out there, or when the course is not as busy as it gets on the weekend. Were I to only have Saturdays or Sundays to play, I'm not sure I would keep at it...almost a whole weekend day for 18 holes would not be something I would want, nor would it be popular at home, either.

I wish I could say that this is an isolated problem relative only to one or two courses, but the truth is, my story could be repeated in slightly varied forms on most public golf courses in the US.

I am increasingly convinced that rounds like that are one of the mains reason golf has either plateaued or perhaps even declining all across the country. Yes, the Great Recession figures into it prominently. Money is tight and the first thing to go are discretionary expenses like greens fees and the like. But the decline actually began before the recession, and it has worsened during it. That tells me that money is one thing, but that other reasons are in play as well. I'm not alone in that assessment. Yesterday on Twitter, one of the guys I follow had this to say:
SLOW PLAY is killing muni golf...I'm in 5th group off teebox yesterday in front of us was 3 holes behind by 4th hole
Who needs that?

No one.

Funny thing is, in the UK, a five hour round is unheard of. They are done with 18 hours in three and a half hours. Any longer, and you will hear it from the Club Captain, and more than likely if you do it twice, you're not going to be playing their course much longer. Public, private, in between, it doesn't matter. To a man and woman, they get to their golf ball, and once they are clear to hit, they swing and move along. No exaggerated antics, no ridiculous waits over the ball. "Find ball, hit ball, move along" is the order of the day. When everyone does it, the time flies, because the golf ball is constantly flying.

So why do we have such slow play in America?


  1. Because the American courses try to cram as many golfers on as they can. One of my local munis sends off 5somes every 9 minutes. Watching the five guys in the group ahead of you three putt every hole is maddening. The rangers are nonexistent and they certainly never tell the slow players to pick up the pace.

  2. I've played tons of public courses. Some deal with slow play harshly (those that can afford to lose a few customers) and some that turn a blind-eye to the situation. Here in the States, when we teach someone to play this game, we need to stress etiquette before we go over every single rule to the game. Furthermore, teaching people to pick up and move on, or let the group behind play through should be fundamentally taught by the pros who give lessons. I posted a blog about this a few weeks ago:


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