What We Learned: Pace of Play month


As Golf Channel's Pace of Play month draws to a conclusion, GolfChannel.com writers offer up 'what we learned.'

For this scribe, the biggest revelation during Pace of Play Month was that nearly every segment of the sport desperately wants to find a solution to one of the game’s most irritating issues … except, of course, the level that has the most potential to enact serious change.

The PGA Tour, which hasn’t doled out a slow-play penalty since 1995, continues to operate with the premise that five-hour rounds are OK, so long as the players are constantly moving. They claim it’s a numbers game – that there are too many players on the course, that backups are inevitable – and that’s probably true. But there’s no denying the $10,000 fine is little deterrent. There’s no denying that repeat offenders know how to beat the flawed system.

The AJGA may have a proactive policy in place to help curb slow play at the junior level, and the college game is finally starting to address some of its issues, but those players still want to emulate the stars they see on Tour. They take their cues from them.

So if the PGA Tour shows little sign of changing, then the next generation is merely hurrying up just to slow down. – Ryan Lavner

I learned that there are a lot of golfers concerned with pace of play. Tons of ‘em. Almost all of us, really. But I also learned that until there’s a 100 percent give-a-heck rate, a lot of things aren’t going to change.

All it takes is one car driving 30 mph in the fast lane to back up traffic and the same is true on the golf course. Quite frankly, 90 percent or 95 percent or even 99 percent is not enough to completely speed up pace of play – whether it’s on the PGA Tour or in the recreational ranks.

I’ve also learned that there are really only two things that will get us to that 100 percent number: Embarrassing the offenders and hitting ‘em where it hurts – in the wallet.

If nothing else, though, more golfers have had their eyes opened up to the problem recently. Earlier this week, Jason Day said, “You see it all over Golf Channel – they want to quicken up play. The USGA heads that as well. I know it hurts the game of golf. … I'm a medium to slower player, I believe.  I've been actually pretty quick this year.”

People are working on it, from top-level pros to 36-handicap hackers. The solution to any problem has to start somewhere. This one has already begun. – Jason Sobel

With a monsoon of respect to the USGA, the pace-of-play issue in golf goes well beyond the well-intentioned ideals of “While we're young,” the association’s new effort to speed up play.

While researching a story on the PGA Tour’s pace-of-play policy we received 10 different answers from 10 different points of view on how to speed up play. If the Tour, which is a confined environment with virtually limitless resources, can’t swing a quick fix then there’s little chance Hometown GC can discover the formula for faster rounds.

That everyone is trying, however, is a step in the right direction. The answer may not be easy but as long as everyone is looking, that is progress by any measure. – Rex Hoggard

Pace of play at the grassroots level can only be transformed from the top down.

It takes governance, or a club’s membership, to decide it’s going to implement and enforce a pace-of-play policy. Then it takes a definitive plan. There’s no changing slow-play culture with education or preaching alone. That’s supplemental.

H. Smith Richardson Golf Course in Fairfield, Conn., and the Country Club at Castle Pines outside Denver are model plans for what works in the public and private sectors of golf. The Town of Fairfield hired their local pro (Jim Alexander) to come up with a time-par plan with strict enforcement. If players are out of position with time par after a warning, marshals make them pick up their balls and advance to where their proper time par should have them. At Country Club of Castle Pines, the club’s membership posts the names of slow-play transgressors in the clubhouse with the threat of suspending privileges.

It’s a major commitment from leadership, but both plans work. – Randall Mell

This month I learned several things: namely, that there are any number of ways to assuage slow play concerns at the local club level and that once the term “knucklehead” gets in your head, it’s tough to get out.

More than that, though, I came away from this month realizing that slow play is an issue that is not going away anytime soon. Despite the options available at the local level – be they larger holes, better-assembled tee sheets, or designing courses with pace in mind – slow play will continue to plague the game because nothing is being done to prevent it at the very top of the sport.

While both the PGA Tour and USGA can espouse pace of play policies, each organization clearly lacks teeth. The Tour has now gone more than 18 years since its last one-stroke penalty was issued for pace, instead relying on closed-door fines and a flawed system in which repeat offenders know just where the loopholes are hiding. The USGA, meanwhile, rolled out a robust “While We’re Young” slow play campaign during the U.S. Open at Merion, but just two weeks later we see rounds routinely approach six hours in the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack.

Until things change at the top, it’s hard to see any lasting pace of play solutions trickle down far enough to impact the average player. – Will Gray