Fast Furious golf event bucks trend of five-hour rounds

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fast furious golf
                             A race-themed PGA West was the setting for the Fast & Furious golf event.

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Is there anything golfers hate more than slow play?

Four-putts, shanks, a bad polish sausage at the turn, you name it – nothing is less digestible than a five-hour round of golf.

It’s one of golf’s great conundrums. Equipment has evolved to make the game more enjoyable. Why hasn’t pace of play?

Last month we visited the first-annual Fast & Furious, an event out to prove that tournament golf doesn’t have to be a five-hour round played on lush, perfectly clipped grass. The event was created by Davis Sezna, president of La Quinta Resort in Palm Desert and his executive director Mike Kelly, who contend that golf can – and should – be played in less than four hours on a firm, fast surface.

Before a shotgun start at PGA West’s browned-out Greg Norman Course, each of the 80 participants signed a contract requiring them to complete all 18 holes in less than four hours. Those who failed to finish in the allotted time would be disqualified.

While PGA West certainly isn’t the first group to take a hard line approach to pace of play – most golf courses have some sort of policy on the matter – the Fast & Furious is the first event we’ve heard of to adopt a definitive start and finish time for a tournament.

“Pace of play is a hot button no matter where you go,” Kelly said. “With this event we feel like we’re taking a step toward solving one of golf’s biggest problems.”

Among the participants at the Fast & Furious was PGA Tour winner John Schroeder, a man who knows a thing or two about slow play. During CBS’ broadcast of the 1980 Heritage Classic at Harbour Town, an open mic caught Tom Kite chastising Schroeder for playing slowly in the group ahead.

“He said some very unflattering things about me,” Schroeder recalled, declining to specify exactly what Kite said. “When I played the Tour I was a slow player, I don’t dispute that. But he and [playing partner] Lanny Wadkins thought we were out of position that day when in fact we were not.”

Schroeder says nothing much ever came of the incident – other than CBS abandoning its plan to mic players – and the issue of slow play on Tour is actually worse now than it’s ever been.

“When you watch players on Tour today, they’re moving at a glacial pace,” Schroeder said. “When I watch those guys on TV I’m saying, ‘What is he thinking about?’ When the average golfer sees that, they go out and copy them.”

Despite his reputation as a pro, Schroeder says he plays much faster nowadays. He frequents The Palms Golf Club in La Quinta, where he says three- to three-and-a-half hour rounds are the norm. At the Fast & Furious, he never thought about playing fast in order to finish.

If a former slow-playing Tour player is on board with playing faster golf, it makes sense for amateurs as well. And while there are inherent roadblocks to playing faster – most notably the number of strokes a hacker hits over the course of a round – Schroeder believes the solution is simple.

“It comes down to playing ready golf,” he said. “If you can be ready to hit your ball when it’s your turn, you’ll play a lot faster.”

As golf navigates a sluggish economy, it can ill-afford golfers bailing on the game because it takes too long to play. It’s nice to see PGA West taking an active role in reversing the trend. Let’s hope other courses and tournament operators follow suit.