Slow play problems comparable to driving a car

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Whenever the topic of slow play comes up, I always compare it with traffic problems. To wit: Rarely do individuals own up to being part of the problem; instead, it’s the guy up ahead who is to blame. And the guy ahead of him. And the guy ahead of that guy. But hardly ever do people look in at themselves in the rearview mirror and find the person staring back at fault.

That’s true for drivers and it’s true for golfers. It’s always someone else guilty of rubbernecking at an accident or changing lanes for no reason at all – or checking the wind for a sixth time or dawdling over a 2-footer.

With Golf Channel’s Pace of Play Month getting its motor running and heading out on the highway, I decided to take this analogy for a test drive.

“The big word that comes up is rhythm. Once you’re in rhythm and one little thing happens, it botches everything up. So in that sense, I think there is a comparison,” explained Phil Caruso, the deputy director for technical problems at the Institute of Transportation Engineers. “You tee off, have a certain harmony and rhythm and then – boom! – someone is taking their time and your rhythm gets thrown off. It’s a ripple effect. When you’re talking congestion, there could be a fender bender that affects traffic flow, so there is a comparison there from that perspective.”

It felt good to have my comparison vindicated, but not good enough.

No, simply claiming that slow play in golf is like traffic counts only as the first piece in a much larger puzzle. Where this analogy can be most effective is investigating problem-solving techniques on the roads and attempting to apply them toward alleviating this issue on the course.

“In terms of mobility and in terms of trying to maintain a momentum, there are a lot of variables,” Caruso continues. “The pedestrian enters into it, taxis, delivery trucks, bicyclists, freight operators. All of it affects congestion. And you get the same type of thing on the golf course with different kinds of golfers.”

“We use something called the 85th percentile – the best speed is what 85 percent of the drivers feel comfortable driving at,” said William Bombard, city engineer for Providence, R.I. “A rural setting on a two-lane road with a shoulder, depending on the amount of curves and dips, the 85th percentile may drive it 47 miles per hour, so that tells us we should set that limit at no more than 50. How can we apply that to the links? I’ve been on some courses where it says, ‘If you’re here now and you’ve been on the course for more than an hour, you’re too slow.’ Signs like that might be appropriate.”

All good ideas, but these bastions of the fast lanes have nothing on the Ohio Department of Transportation District 1, which is apparently the David Letterman of all Department of Transportation Districts. The good folks presiding over many roads in the Buckeye State offered a Top 10 list on “How Being a Good Driver Can Translate Into Being a Faster Golfer”:

10. Observe the speed limit: Reduce slow play by observing the honors rule. The person in your group who had the lowest score on the previous hole tees off first, the second lowest tees off second and so on.

9. Be aware of your travel time: Observe appropriate time limits when looking for lost balls. Taking too much time is directly related to “congestion” and “backups” building upstream.

8. Be an alert driver: As you watch your drive travel down the fairway, take note of the landing area to identify physical features nearby that will help you locate your ball quicker as you move up to take your next shot. Other “passengers” in your group should do the same which can shorten “travel time.”

7. Check your rearview mirror: While your ultimate destination lies ahead of you on the green, periodically look behind you at the fairway and the tee box. Other groups standing around waiting to hit their approach shot or to tee off is an indication of slow play.

6. Be patient: People often think they sit forever at a traffic signal. In reality, the average time a driver is held at a traffic signal is 30-45 seconds. Perhaps slow play is, at times, only a matter of perception.

5. Don’t drive distracted: As with driving a vehicle, stay focused and keep moving. Don’t step up on the tee and start telling a story about last night’s dinner. Don’t take a call or start texting on your phone. Don’t overdo the practice swings. Just hit the ball.

4. Obey the signs: Traffic jams are in part attributed to drivers waiting until the last minute to merge when travel lanes are taken out of service. Merging at the first opportunity rather than at the last helps maintain better traffic flow. On the course, be aware of changing circumstances and do your part to keep things moving.

3. Travel with passengers: Having multiple passengers in a car is good for reducing traffic congestion on the highway, but having more than four in your golf group can significantly slow play. Just as highways are designed for a particular volume of traffic, golf courses are designed for groups of four golfers. A twosome works fine, but you should expect to be slowed by the group of four in front of you.

2. Quick Clear: There is an initiative in the state of Ohio called Quick Clear, which encourages first responders, tow truck operators and drivers to quickly remove vehicles involved in a crash out of travel lanes and off to the side of the road. The reason? Crashes cause major traffic delays and also contribute to secondary crashes. In golf, the Quick Clear concept can also apply. Avoid those major delays and secondary crashes on the course.

And the No. 1 way being a good driver can translate into being a faster golfer …

1. Let faster traffic pass: We all know how irritating it is when a slower vehicle stays in the passing lane while traffic backs up behind. Remember that feeling when you’re playing golf. If you’re slowing play, let the faster, more skilled group behind play through. There’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s courteous and proper.

So there you have it. Not only is slow play analogous to traffic, but we can use solutions to the latter as ideas for fixing the former. What began as a simple comparison could actually be applied to real-world logistics on the golf course, employing the mentality of the roads to fairways and greens.

As for me, I’m going to play fast no matter what. I hear the next airing of “Late Show with Ohio Department of Transportation District 1” is coming on soon.