Pace of Play

Not another article on this, you might wonder! Well, it sure is so you might as well buckle down and read on. This issue is not going to go away soon. Case in point of the seriousness of the issue, Hideki Matsuyama and 14 year old Tianlang Guan received penalty strokes for slow play at the majors this year (Why only Asians I would ask, but this is a peace loving site and no place to stir up racially motivated debates). The issue was so serious that even the Golden Bear waded in with his tuppence worth and he was not far off the mark. What he suggested was that the golf ball was to blame. According to him, the golf ball of today travels a fair bit and to accommodate that, the courses need to change. So, they are made longer and longer to provide the pros of today a challenge. This ends up with the course playing longer for both pros and amateurs alike.

Not all of us can drive the ball 300 yards and hit a 4 iron 250 yards. The gold courses of today are ridiculously long for the amateur golfer. Imagine 220 yard par 3s, >600 yard par 5s. 90% of those who play the game are amateurs and are the ones who bring in the money for the sport. With these longer courses, golf clubs risk alienating those very golfers who support the game. As courses get longer, the pace of play slows down since people need more time to walk the course, play more shots and generally contribute to the already declining popularity of the game. While this may be a controversial statement, I can assure you it is not.

pace of play

Let me paint you one of my customary scenarios.

Most of the private golf courses in and around Manila are around 1 to 1.5 hours drive away.

• You start off from home at 5 A.M.
• Reach your course at 6:15 A.M.
• Changing in and warming up takes another 30 minutes.
• Your front 9 takes 2 hours and 15 minutes (for a threesome).
• You take a short 10 minute break to load up on carbs/sugar.
• Your back nine takes another 2 hours 30 minutes (for a threesome).
• By this time, the watch already reads 11:40 AM.
• You stop for lunch and spend another 30 minutes.
• You leave the course at 12:20 odd and reach home at 1:40 P.M

A trip to the golf course is no longer a stop off and get off journey. It is akin to planning a plane ride to Dubai. You need to devote at least 8 hours of your time to take in a round. No longer can you hop onto a local muni course and play 9 and run back all in the space of 2 hours. This does not bode well for the juniors of the game who learn their craft by watching the pros play. The very same pros that look at a shot from 19 different angles and then hit a shot (Cue pros like J.B.Holmes, Hunter Mahan, Jesper Parnevik, and Ben Crane). Not 1 of these will ever make it to the Golf Hall of Fame. Not that there is a correlation between pace of play and making the hall of fame. Having said that, the normal pace for a twosome in any tour championship is around 4 hours. Sure, there is a lot of price money on offer but that should not be an excuse. There are a lot of players who play fast and yet manage to win. You cannot use an excuse and say that you need to try extra hard or spend more time since there is money to be won. I would argue that the money is indirectly put into the game by spectators and it is the pro’s responsibility to provide them with a fun, enjoyable round. Who wants to see a pro’s pre-shot routine of looking at the target, a shrug of the shoulders, addressing the ball and then backing off, only to repeat this process another 3 times before the actual shot.

My friends in Manila will agree with me when I point out a few courses with interminable wait times: Navy, Villamor, and Camp Aguinaldo. It’s apparent that the public courses get their names called out since they are frequented by more visitors due to their open door policy. However, you cannot discount horror stories of 6 or 7 hour rounds, even if you are a public course. Course Marshalls need to strictly implement a red flag policy of penalizing slow players. Every club has this policy laid out but hardly anyone implements it. The worst of the bunch are players who don’t know the rules of the game. If you are on the green on a Par 3, invite the group behind you to hit their shots. If there is a faster group behind you, then let them through. It’s only simple etiquette and does not take an Einstein level intellect to figure out. A round of golf (I am a high handicapper) played alone (18 holes) should not take one more than 2. 5 hours with a cart. I get through my round at the 9 hole army course in around 1 hour 10 minutes. I have put this to the test at my home course and multiple other courses.

My calculation:

An average round should take you around 95 shots (Mid to high handicappers). Putts will make up around 35%-40% of those shots. If an average person spends 30 seconds on a putt and makes 38 putts in a round; that translates to 19 minutes worth of putts. If that same person spends 20 seconds for each shot from the tee or fairway, they will total another 19 minutes of shot time. The total amount of time spent on actual shots is only 38 minutes. Let’s round it off to 50 minutes for some slow-pokes out there.

A decently-long golf course, played from the blue tees is 6800 yards which translates to 6.2 kilometres. An average person with a normal gait can walk 5 kilometres in an hour. Taking into account the elevation changes and other various factors, we can whittle it down to 4 kilometres per hour. This will give us a walking time of 1 hour and 33 minutes (let’s consider it 1 hour and 50 minutes). The extra 17 minutes for the interminably long walks we face from a green to the next tee.

This gives us a total of 2 hours and 40 minutes for a round of golf. Not a bad time actually. If you do add in a playing partner or two and this number should go up by another 30 minutes to a time of 3 hours 10 minutes for a round with 2 buddies. It can definitely be done if everyone sticks to this. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a utopia and I would be happy to get my round completed in 4 hours or less.

My Suggestions to improve the place of play:

• Call up the course before you leave to check if they are expecting a lot of course traffic. No sense in adding to it. Try another course if you can.
• Warm up before you come to the first tee. No one wants to see your yoga poses on the first tee.
• Be ready for your second shot, as soon as your playing partner has hit his shot, you should be ready to hit yours. Ask your caddy beforehand about yardages and club selection.
• If you riding a cart on the cart path, then get a few clubs with you if you are not sure. It’s better than running back to the cart to fetch your clubs.
• If you are on the green and the group behind are at the tees (Par 3 only), then allow them to hit their shots.
• Don’t use your cellphone or talk on the phone on the course. Leave it for when you are on the cart or leave it altogether.
• Don’t spend time reading the break and re-reading it after everyone has putted through. When your playing partner is lining up the putt, you had better be ready with knowledge on the line and speed of your putt. Once they are done, step up and stroke the ball in.
• On the putting green, if you/your playing partner are left with 5 feet or less then allow them to putt through.
• Never condone delays of any sort on the course even if the offender is your friend. You are only serving to make the game less enjoyable for yourself and worse, maybe upset your rhythm.
• If you do break for lunch or a bite, then remember that most course rules state that you have lost your standing on the course. Please let the flights behind you through.
• No mulligan, ever!!! Well, maybe the tee shot on the first hole but that’s it.
• Last but not the least, if you are a high handicapper, then don’t hit the ball too hard, take it easy and remember, it is better to be short and on the fairway than long and in the ravine!!

The question that faces most of us who watch golf on TV or play on the course: Who wants to sit through a 4 hour snooze-fest of watching someone’s pre-shot routine. I don’t and I am sure most of us don’t as well. This issue is not going to go away anytime soon. It is up to us as golfers to make this game better for us and people around us. If we have budding golfers at home, we need to make them realize this simple fact. Spending 2 minutes over a putt is not going to make you a better putter. See Brandt Snedeker, who is the best putter on the PGA tour. Man, does that guy rocket through his round. We can’t all be like him but we sure as well can try to be less like the ones I mentioned above. Golf is a tiring game; let’s not make it any more tiring than it has to be. So the next time you go out on the golf course remember to have a good time, dragging your feet will not make the good time last.

How to know if you are a slow player:

• You are a slow player if you are still warming up when your partners have already hit their tee shots
• You are a slow player if you are still waiting in the cart for your partner, when you ball lies 10 yards away.
• You are a slow player if you walk to the green from 60 yards out just to check if there is a noticeable slope between the front of the green and the hole. You are not going to hole it from 60 yards, just hit the damn ball!!!
• You are a slow golfer if you cannot decide between a 3 wood and a 5 wood for a 300 yard shot. Just use driver and then after your ball dribbles 60 yards down the fairway, use a 3 wood to get it closer still.
• You are a slow player if you have to pace off a 10 foot putt 3 times when facing a putt for a ‘10’ on a hole (that’s a score not a rating!!)
• You make 5 practise swings and still chunk the ball and then repeat the process all over again.

Remember# It only takes 1 to hold up the line for a 100 others!!

pace of play whole time

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