The old and new of slow play

By |  March 26, 2018 0 Comments

Congratulations to Golfdom on celebrating its 90th anniversary recently. I’m honored to be a part of such a long history and that my articles are available for others to read. Had I known this opportunity would have been a reality back in high school, I would have spent more time paying attention in English class all those years ago!

I spend a lot of time reading old golf publications and newspaper articles looking for information while piecing together stories and learning more about golf’s history. I focus largely on golf course architecture and architects, along with turfgrass management practices. I occasionally come across some surprises that change the way I look at things. Sometimes it’s
complicated, but often it’s a basic concept that has a ripple effect.

Today, slow play is one reason why golf rounds are decreasing and some people give up the game entirely. Other reasons include course set-up being too penal, green speeds too fast, and too much rough. All play a part. I argue that another reason comes into play before golfers even tee off, and it has to do with the distance the golf ball goes today and the need to extend the time between tee times to allow golfers to hit tee shots safely and to keep the pace of play moving.

In doing my research, I found references to tee times for 1923’s opening day at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, where they had tee times that fluctuated between four and six minutes. That day, Harding saw more than 1,400 rounds of golf played. Almost as hard to comprehend, one golfer managed to play 72 holes! I originally thought this was done to handle the influx of golfers who wanted to play on opening day, and not done normally.

To my surprise, I found an article on the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach that listed tee times to be played in twosomes in just five-minute increments. Golfers at that time were likely not driving more than 250 yards, so they were able to get to their ball and play away quicker than current professional golfers.

For comparison, let’s look at this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where the final round went out in twosomes and were sent off in 11-minute increments. So, the distance golfers are hitting the golf ball has an impact on how much time it takes to play a course even before they tee off. In addition, with today’s golfer hitting the ball 50-75 yards farther, they also find the walk to be longer as golf courses are lengthened to accommodate the ball going farther. Then the walks to the back tees continue to get longer, and have a negative effect on the rhythm one gets into while playing a round of golf.

So, professional golfers having longer waits on the tee translates into longer walks on the golf course — both of which are brought on by the distance golf balls are going. Of course, golfers today take way too much time to hit their shots. Given the latest swing theory, sports psychologists and gauging whatever way the wind is blowing, these factors all come together to have an impact on pace of play. Throw in narrow fairways, more rough and faster greens and you have a game with which the average golfer can’t identify. This situation is reflected then on golf courses all over the country, where its impact is far greater on the pace of play, and so on the enjoyment of the average golfer.

Tournament golf is just that, an event for an identifiable group in which the course gets a certain conditioning. But after the tournament, conditions should be brought back to more
realistic expectations.

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