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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Slow Play Isn't Entirely Your Fault

Slow play isn't just ruining your day on the golf course, it's strangling the game, according to experts gathered by the USGA at last week's Pace of Play Symposium.  A range of industry leaders outlined various research and made recommendations to bring the game closer to solving one of its long-standing challenges.  The biggest conclusion I took away from the gathering is that player behavior--including that idiot who's plumb-bobbing every putt in the foursome ahead of you--is only partially to blame.

USGA Pace of Play Symposium   photo courtesy of USGA
Matt Pringle, the USGA’s technical director, and Jim Moore, the USGA Green Section’s education director, discussed the findings of their continuing studies of pace of play based on real-world data. Pringle outlined some fundamental causes and advocated for more comprehensive measurement of key factors that most influence pace of play, while Moore concentrated on specific maintenance practices that golf courses can employ to combat the problem.

Course operators who try to squeeze more players onto the course with eight- or nine-minute intervals between tee times are prime culprits in slowing down the game, according to just about every speaker. Joining them in the guilty category are designers (and the course developers who push them into it) who build ever-longer and ever-more-difficult courses in an effort to make it onto the golf magazines' top 100 lists so they can sell more resort rooms and golf course home sites. When you round up the greens chairmen whose egos drive their club's greens to Stimp at eleven or higher, the rough to US-Open length and thickness, and fairways lush and green so players get no roll, you've identified some other star members of the slow-play rogue's gallery.

Lou Riccio, a professor at Columbia University and a longtime pace-of-play analyst, noted that pace-of-play discussions typically focus on the behavior of individual golfers, yet the role of facility owners, course managers and others is of equal if not greater importance. “This is an integrated challenge, and one with many stakeholders,” said Riccio. David Hueber, a professor at Clemson University, provided an analysis of golf course design and construction from the 1990s through today, noting that courses built during this period are generally longer and more difficult to play – both direct contributors to increased pace of play.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the model of play presented by the media as it follows the pros. At the symposium, representatives from the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour discussed the importance of proper pace of play at some of the game’s most important and visible championships. John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of Rules, Competitions & Equipment Standards, spoke specifically about the Association’s efforts throughout 2013 to monitor and improve pace of play at its championships.

Other representation came from some of the USGA’s most important industry partners, including The PGA of America, the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), and the Southern California Golf Association. Stephen Hamblin, the executive director of the AJGA, offered an encouraging look at the progress made at the junior levels of the game through institution of an aggressive checkpoint system at its tournaments.

The symposium was part of an ongoing, multi-year pace-of-play initiative introduced by the USGA in February 2013, when the Association identified pace of play as a significant threat to the game’s health. Many of the resources developed during the last nine months can be found at the USGA’s Pace of Play Resource Center.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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