Like just about any problem, it's almost impossible to solve pace of play without accurate measurement. The USGA announced this week at the Pace of Play Symposium that they're going to try out a clever monitoring system early next year that will allow real-time measurement of the time it takes players to navigate a course.
The system is based on technology installed in flagsticks that will allow a course operator to spot bottlenecks and (hopefully) correct them before they back up and entire course. Bottlenecks have a terrible ripple effect and are considered the worst single problem in pace of play.
The device from Spectrum Technologies (who also worked with the USGA to develop TruFirm technology that measures the firmness of greens) includes a magnet in the bottom of the flag that tells when the stick is pulled from the cup and replaced and a processing and communications unit that communicates with a central data collection point and/or to hand-held devices like cell phones or tablets in the hands of rangers on the course. Measuring the time between flagstick "transactions" lets you see anomalies that can be attacked immediately.
"At the end of the day, I always say that a golf course is like a factory that is producing rounds of golf," says the USGA's Matt Pringle. "DuPont doesn’t try to run a chemical plant without measurement and control. We shouldn’t be running golf factories without measurement and control, either. Even if just basic measurements are taken, I think the golf course operator will realize a lot of improvement."
Test units are expected by early spring and will be de-bugged in an on-course trial, possibly during a USGA event or two. Then they'll be sent to state and local golf associations for wider testing.
Sounds like a great idea to me, although I hate to think of disturbing all those rangers during their naps.
Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf