When it comes to Pace of Play, there is good news and bad news.
First the good news: We might not be as slow as we think.
The bad news is it varies greatly depending on where and when you play. Time to play 18 holes can average well under four hours at some courses, but can average over five at others.
The most comprehensive pace-of-play, data-driven technology-based study ever of American golf reveals that the average time to play an 18 hole round is 4 hours 17 minutes. Not surprisingly golfers play faster at private courses—well under 4 hours—and much slower at public courses. Nevertheless, almost 30 percent of all rounds in the study were played in less than 4 hours and only one in 10 rounds exceeded 5 hours.
The study, conducted by the Three 45 Golf Association and a team led by Dr. Lucius J. Riccio of Columbia University, studied more than 40,000 rounds at 175 U.S. courses, with data provided by GPS Industries, which installs state-of-the-art GPS systems in golf carts.
“We were surprised, pleasantly so, by some of these findings,” said Dr. Riccio, author of Golf’s Pace of Play Bible. “Obviously, there is room for improvement. Much more has to be done to reduce the time to play. But the findings demonstrate that golfers are perfectly capable of speedy rounds when play is managed correctly.”
Tee time intervals are a big part of the problem. The Three 45 study demonstrated, for example, that where play is lighter, rounds go faster, not unlike cars on a highway. “Courses with a high number of rounds per day (like a crowded highway) had elapsed times higher than courses with lower amounts of play, adding strong evidence to the importance of tee intervals as the main culprit of slow elapsed times.”
For Riccio, this means that course operators, and not just golfers themselves, need to be educated on the fundamentals of golf’s traffic flow, which has been cited as a culprit in the sport’s weakening participation. “Tee intervals have to be set to match course and golfer characteristics,” says Riccio. “Each course and every membership or customer base is different. Operators have to manage play based on their unique profile.”
That may mean copying some of the practices of private courses. The “fastest” courses in the study were all from Florida and all private, with Coral Ridge Country Club in Ft. Lauderdale, and Stoney Brook Golf Club in Orlando, averaging just over 3 hours 20 minutes per round. At the slowest courses, Arcadia Bluffs in Michigan and Quarry Golf in Texas, both public access, rounds averaged about 5 hours.
Not surprisingly, the first rounds of the day at all facilities were fastest, averaging 3 hours and 46 minutes, but afternoon rounds averaged 4 hours 21 minutes. Elapsed times also varied by days of the week, with weekdays averaging about 10 minutes faster than weekends.
What was not clear from the study was whether course difficulty played a significant role. Though there was a slight correlation between elapsed time and course length, it was not significant, and “no relationship could be found between time to play and USGA Course Rating,” according to the authors.
Riccio said that the Three 45 Golf Association plans more studies in partnership with GPS Industries. “This analysis proves that with the right amount and type of data—and we got more technology-based data here than anyone has ever collected—we’ll be able to provide courses with helpful suggestions, specific plans and advanced management systems for combatting slow play,” he said.
The study can be accessed online at www.three45golf.org. Golf’s Pace of Play Bible is available on Amazon.
Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf