Dr. Riccio offers 'The truth about slow play'

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 15, 2013, 4:56 pm

The Truth About Slow Play: Why clubs, players and the entire golf industry need to improve it in order to set the pace and grow the game


(Note: This article originally appeared in The Met Golfer. It is reprinted with their permission.)

Does a five-hour round make you crazy? Does slow play make you want to bend the shaft of your 3-iron around the heads of the group in front of you? While many issues seem to split the golf world into two camps (one set of rules vs. two; the ball should be ratcheted back vs. it should go longer; anchoring the putter is okay vs. it is evil), the subject of slow play brings all golfers together like no other. Everyone associated with the game understands that slow play is killing the enjoyment of the game and the levels of participation. A 2005 study by former USGA technical director Frank Thomas found it to be the No. 1 obstacle to growing the game.

And yet, if you ask anyone what causes slow play, almost universally the answer is, “the group ahead.” What’s the solution? Some say walk faster. Some say give short putts or make the slow players tee off later in the day. Some say pick up when you’re out of the hole. Some say wave up on par 3s. Others say “tee it forward.”

There is no shortage of suggestions. Everyone has an opinion. But what really works? What will really make a difference? Unfortunately many people believe slow play is somewhat like the weather, which everyone complains about but can’t change. However, something can be done about slow play. The big obstacle to correcting the problem has been the lack of a thorough understanding of what causes slow play. I’ve used my background in statistics and analytics to conduct the research needed to provide that understanding. My research, doing hundreds of simulations and statistical analyses, indicates that the problem of slow play is far more complicated than any of those simple answers. In fact, the data indicate the answer to the question “who is responsible for slow play?”: We all are! Yes, everyone involved in the game contributes in some small (or large) way to slow play. It’s not just “the other guy.”

Some of the causes are within our powers as golfers. Some are not. Some are determined by course management, but not all. Some are caused by course architects and their designs without them knowing it. But no one is free from responsibility.

Dean Knuth, former USGA director of handicapping and now Golf Digest contributing editor, says that in a round of golf, we “play golf” (swing the club) for about 60 minutes and walk for about two hours. Everything else is waiting.

What causes all that waiting? In looking for the answers, I applied factory physics to golf. All factories consist of processes which, when provided with the right resources, produce finished products. In our golf analogy, each hole is an operation and each group of four golfers is a work-in-process product. In factory physics, the time it takes one unit of product to go from raw input to a finished product is called throughput time. In golf, the throughput time is the time it takes one group to play their full round. Cycle time is the time between successive outputs, or completed products, of a factory. In golf, that would be the time between successive groups finishing the 18th hole. Both measures can be defined for each hole as well as the whole course. The capacity of a factory is its maximum production per hour or per day. The lowest capacity operation limits the capacity of the entire factory, and is called the bottleneck. The input rate should not be more than the capacity of the bottleneck. If it is, long waits build up in the factory. All of these have a direct application to the problem at hand.

To explain how this relates to golf, I have divided the major causes of pace problems into three categories: individual player and group behaviors, course management decisions and designer plans. I will discuss them separately, but keep in mind they are all linked. There is no simple silver bullet solution. A solution will only come when we recognize the contribution of each.

The Players

This is the most obvious starting point. Without question a slow player slows down a group and a slow group slows down the whole course. A group can’t finish a hole until the slowest player finishes and a slow group sets the pace for every group behind.

Solution: As an individual, move to your own ball at a speed of at least 3 miles per hour (100 yards a minute) and be ready to hit when it is your turn. At that point, take no more than 45 seconds to hit. Take no more than three minutes to look for a lost ball or to take relief. As a group, your group should take no more than three minutes to clear the tee, fairway landing area (once there) and the green complex. Not moving to your own ball and being ready to hit will add up to one hour to your group’s pace. It is obvious that the slowest group determines the pace for all groups behind. But my research shows something not obvious and more important. If every group was a “fast group” overall but had one or two slow holes (a lost ball, a three putt green etc.), the pace for the course would be them sum of the slow holes for each group on the course. As such, each group, when they have a slow hole, has contributed to a slow pace. This is because it is harder to play fast than to play slowly. It is hard to make up the time you lost especially if while you are trying to make it up, the group ahead is having their slow hole.

Solution: Recognize that you and your group are probably part of the problem even if most of the time you are playing quickly. Do whatever you can to make up for lost time and keep up with the group ahead.

Course Architects

The USGA slope system was a huge advance in golf handicapping in the early 1980s, and was developed with the MGA playing a lead role in refining and implementing the new system. Unfortunately course developers decided that to get their money’s worth, they needed to build courses with high slope ratings. As such, architects were pressured to design courses or make renovations with lots of difficulty factors. The harder the course, the more strokes need to be taken, and the longer it takes to play. More difficulty, more lost balls, more time to search. Often these new courses had long walks between green to tee, just adding time but no additional golfing enjoyment. The original Rules of Golf written in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1744 said “ye shall tee your ball no further than a club from the previous hole.” Boy, have times changed. I estimate that modern course design has added 30 to 60 minutes per round.

Solution: Never play a course where the slope rating is more than 142 minus your handicap index. Play it all the way forward if you can’t follow this rule.

Clubs and Courses

Now let’s look at the group that can arguably have the largest impact on pace of play: the leadership at clubs and courses, which for the purposes of this exercise I refer to as “course managers.” There are two avenues by which golf course superintendents, green chairmen, head pros, and other leaders at clubs and courses affect pace of play: First is setup – the height of the rough, the speed of the greens, the tee marker placements all can add up to more shots and more time.

Solution: Course managers should monitor the time it takes for groups of all ability levels to play each hole and make adjustments to their course setup. They should study the USGA’s Course Pace of Play Rating Manual (developed by Knuth) and use consultants such as Bill Yates or Steven Southard who study such concerns. The MGA is also a resource to learn about the pace ratings at courses across the Met Area. The second issue with club personnel is far more complicated, because tee time intervals are the main culprit to slow play. Course managers are naturally inclined to set tee intervals which are too short. They “please” more groups by getting more onto the course. But in the same way in which too many cars on a highway actually slow everyone down, too many groups cause the pace to deteriorate significantly. My research shows that a tee interval shorter than the time it takes to play the longest par 3 will cause the pace to increase well beyond a reasonable four-hour amount. In fact, a four-and-a-half or five-hour round is guaranteed by a too short tee interval no matter how well the individual players and groups play. There is nothing the golfers can do to overcome the fact that there are too many groups on the course. For groups of four, tee intervals less than 10 minutes almost certainly cause pace problems. So why do the course managers do it? Because the pressure to bring in more green fee revenue (at least in the short run) by stuffing more groups on the course is simply too great. Spreading out the tee intervals to a length which would allow a four-hour round would require about a 15 to 20 percent increase in green fees to compensate for the lower number of paying customers. It is a terrible predicament.

Solution: Advocate for proper tee intervals even if it means an increase in green fees. So what will it take for the four-hour round to become the maximum, not the minimum, acceptable pace? There are clubs and courses that have figured out the many factors that must be in place for this to happen. It takes a good course setup, with the proper tee interval, with golfers who move quickly to their own ball, are ready to hit when it is their turn, don’t waste time looking for lost or water logged balls, who pick up the pace when they fall behind, and recognize that we are all in it together. It’s complicated. It will take a comprehensive effort. But there is a hierarchy to the plan. Doing it out of sequence will make subsequent efforts fruitless. 

Here’s the plan:

1. Encourage course managers to set up courses that are challenging but not brutal (pace sensitive.)

2. Set tee intervals appropriately.

3. Institute wave-up policies on par threes.

4. Train and reward all golfers in proper individual pace behaviors.

5. Provide feedback on group behaviors. It’s important to note that this sequence is the reverse of what most people’s intuition would tell them. That has to be recognized or we will make no progress.

One last thing: If you want to be part of the solution, join the Three/45 Golf Association (Three45golf.org) to show your support for pace of play advocacy. The numbers are relevant in multiple ways: We need all golfers to walk or ride the course at an average of 3 miles per hour, and take no more than 45 seconds on any single stroke (not too terribly fast), in order for a round to take about 3 hours and 45 minutes. According to my research, we will only make improvements when we band together and recognize we are all part of the problem, and therefore all part of the solution.

Lou Riccio is a senior lecturer at Columbia Business School in New York, where he has taught since 1995. His passion for golf has fueled his research and his résumé throughout his career. In February, Riccio won the inaugural Shotlink Intelligence Prize from the PGA Tour, and in the past has served on the MGA Executive Committee and the USGA Handicap Research Team. After earning a Ph.D. in engineering from Lehigh University, Riccio was instrumental in helping the USGA develop the Slope Rating System, and received the Ike Grainger Award in recognition of 25 years of volunteer service to the USGA. Riccio is a contributor of statistics-based instruction articles to Golf Digest.

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: