What is the Most Effective Way to Combat Slow Play in Golf? – Part 2

By: Nick Bonfield | Wed 18 Jan 2012 | Comments


Amateur golf

Slow play isn't solely confined to the professional game.  Amateur golf is also suffering, but obviously requires different solutions. We asked a variety of golf fans, bloggers and journalists for their feedback.  Some interesting ideas have been proposed, but most are virtually impossible to apply and regulate. Part of the problem is that enormous discrepancies exist in amateur golf, meaning common sense and individual action are far more important than implementing an unworkable new policy. It all comes back to education and etiquette.

Brian Willerton, via the Golfshake forums, recommends the following:

"For competitions, two stroke penalites are awarded, with signs and posters put up weeks before to make golfers aware of the situation.

For general play, marshals have the power, after an initial warning, to move a group to the next tee or ask them to leave the course."

It is an interesting idea, but who will regulate in competitions? Slow golfers will not call a penalty on themselves, and are unlikely to accept the verdict of a playing partner. It is likely to cause arguments, not something we want to see on a golf course. The only way is for officials to call penalties, but who has the resources to employ multiple marshals (one simply wouldn’t be enough) for a club competition?

Similarly, is someone that has paid for a round of golf going to leave the course, based on the opinion of a marshal that has seen almost nothing of their round? Will every golfer in the group be asked to leave, even if only one player is slow? This is likely to – again – cause severe arguments and hold up play even further.

General suggestions

Several mentions have been made about restricting play from the white tees and having distinctive times when two balls and four balls can tee off. Others have suggested the banning of practice swings and markers, and the abolition of rule 17-3c (the player’s ball must not strike the flagstick, in the hole, unattended, when the stroke has been made on the putting green.)

I understand the thought process behind some of these suggestions, but don’t feel they will speed up play. 

Restricting higher handicappers from playing off the back tees suggests balls are only lost from the whites. What’s more, the mid handicapper might lose more balls from the back tee than a low handicapper, but could still finish his round in less time.

Banning practice swings takes it too far and is impossible to regulate, and ball markers aren’t accountable, rather some of the people that use them. Restricting who can play, and when, is an extremely complex proposal to an issue that can be solved by adherence to etiquette, common courtesy and respect for others. As Donald put it, “It’s not that hard, be ready when it is your turn.”

Of course, differing standards and sizes of group account for differing paces of play. If a two-ball is playing behind your four-ball, show diligence and awareness, and let them through when they catch you. It is remarkably simple. In a competition of four-balls, there is simply no excuse not to keep up with the group in front.

Interesting proposals  

Whilst I don’t see new policy as the main way to combat slow play, some interesting suggestions have been made that could be partly viable.

Making people sign in and out - before and after their round – might be a good way to indentify slow groups. The trouble is, however, that every bit of advice given is redundant unless the players themselves are prepared to change their ways and speed up.

With the current economic climate, no golf club will ban people from playing. Incentivisation, proposed by PGA professional Kevin Hamluk, is my favourite suggestion:

"Offer a monetary discount off the next round if 18 holes are completed within a certain time limit," he suggested.

Offering benefits for quick play is a great way to ingrain and promote good habits on a golf course. Again, however, there is a drawback: one group might play very fast golf, but be held up consistently by another group that doesn’t see a discount as a sufficient catalyst to speed up.

New initiatives can help, but will only be successful if they are underpinned by a fundamental change in attitude; if someone doesn’t recognise they are wrong, they won’t be willing to change.

My solution

There is no one solution to restricting slow play in amateur golf. For me, it all comes down to education, mindset and good habits, and we all have a part to play. Fortunately, this is a point of view shared by the majority of golfers.

As stated by Brain Willerton on the Golfshake forums:

By doing the right things on the course, pace of play takes care of itself.”

Golfing etiquette and the need to avoid slow play must be taught stringently to junior golfers; parents teaching their children are responsible for implanting good habits, and PGA professionals should be constantly drawing attention to the issue, whether it be in professional shops or during golf lessons.  For the average golfer fed up of 5 hour rounds, complaining isn’t enough. If you are playing with someone who isn’t ready when they should be, tell them; if your playing partner has left his bag on the other side of the green to the next tee, explain how they are wasting time; if someone in your group reads a putt from every possible angle, tell them how unnecessary it is in the amateur game.

Posters should be put up around club houses and professional shops with advice on how to avoid slow play: mark your scorecard on the text tee when your partner is teeing off; take no more than two practice swings; read your putt when others are taking theirs, for example.  If the subject is constantly breached, slow golfers should start to make a conscious effort to speed up. New policies will change very little: we can do all we want, but unless people take it upon themselves to play quicker, nothing will change.  What will influence people to play quicker? Criticisms from their peers, understanding the importance of appropriate etiquette, and realising just how much of an impact their slow play and bad habits have on others. We are all responsible for ensuring that the slow play epidemic doesn’t continue.

Read the part 1 introduction and analysis of the Pro Tours.

 

 


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