Of course, that's not the game's only problem. Expense is one. But that problem has more of a chance of resolving itself than slow play. Many courses are too expensive, but they will reap the rewards of what the market won't bear. And the highest priced courses attract a fairly narrow segment of the market.
But one of the most serious impediments to the growth of golf is the amount of time it takes to play. In most regions of the U.S. and Canada, a round of golf is a minimum six-hour door-to-door commitment; in many places, it is much more. That's a bad characteristic to have in a hurry-up world. It's especially bad if the game's promoters hope to hold - or regain - the interest of thirtysomethings who must take a break to raise small children.
Add to this the fact that slow play is as irritating as slipshod dental work. After awhile, even seasoned golfers lean on their clubs, look down the clogged fairway, and say, 'Why bother?'
Organizations, magazines, entities of all kinds, led by some of the best minds in golf, have wrestled with the problem. Yet the national pace of play is worse, not better. Pros often shoulder the blame as setters of a poor example. But that's too easy. If the pros take too long, it should be the mission of the game's leaders to hold them up as an example of how not to do it. They're just pros, not gods. (Six hours and twenty minutes for the second round of the U.S. Open! I don't care whose fault it is; that's just plain wrong.)
Many golfers gaze wistfully over the ocean toward Scotland, where the foolishness of slow play is simply not tolerated. But a 'That'd be nice' attitude is as far as anyone gets, which is sad.
It's disingenuous to criticize the status quo without offering an alternative, so I am armed with one. My plan is to hit - or reward - North American golfers where they live: Their wallets. Like it or hate it, I want to hear what you think about it. Here goes:
That's right. What's the green fee, $60? Great. Finish in more than four and a half hours, and that's the fee. Finish in four hours, you get $8 back. Finish in three and half, get $15 back.
I don't want to hear about the group in front of you. Apply peer pressure. I don't want to hear about the weather. Suck it up, put on the rain suit, and play.
You put the full fee at risk whenever you tee it up, just as you always have. Difference is, you can get some back. You can be more generous at the 19th hole.
Course owners: Stop whining. If people move through faster, you'll more than make up the rebates in additional groups. Account accordingly. And the long view is rosy. Can you imagine being the course in the area everyone talks about as being fast to play? People would be beating down your door. And how well are you doing appeasing people by refusing to move them along? If you're worried they won't come back because they think you're mean, you lose anyway. They don't come back because it takes too long to play.
Drastic? Sure. Slow play is a big problem. Time to get tough, or watch golf participation go the way of tennis.
Let me hear your ideas on the slow play problem. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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