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Tour to examine pace of play in yearlong study

PGA Tour
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MOBILE, AL - NOVEMBER 10: Ben Barry of Tuscaloosa carries a stuffed Pink Panther on his shoulders as he follows Paula Creamer through her third round play in The Mitchell Company LPGA Tournament of Champions at Magnolia Grove Golf Course on November 10, 2007 in Mobile, Alabama. Creamer is nicknamed the Pink Panther. (Photo by Dave Martin/Getty Images)  - 

Pace of play, the hottest topic on the PGA Tour before the proposed ban on anchoring became public issue No. 1, will be the subject of a yearlong study circuit officials told members of the Policy Board and Player Advisory Council last week.

The study, which was explained to players at last week’s PAC meeting at Bay Hill, will focus on the overall pace of play in golf, not just among the play-for-pay set and will coincide with a USGA initiative that was announced earlier this year.

“We are undertaking a comprehensive review of pace of play, not so much slow play,” said Tyler Dennis, the Tour’s vice president of competition who will oversee the study. “It will not be just the Tour itself, the policy and fines and penalty strokes, but also more broadly the effect pace of play has on the game at the college and amateur level.”

The Tour’s pace of play policy, which began in the 1990s and was last overhauled in 2008, will be studied through the use of ShotLink, the data-driven program that tracks Tour players during rounds that can provide a rough snapshot of a particular player’s pace, as well as other indicators.

The Tour policy is based on timings, both individually and in groups, and is cumulative. For example, a second “bad time,” which is determined when a player takes more than the allotted time (40 to 60 seconds) to play a shot when they have been placed on the clock, in a single season results in a $5,000 fine.

Two “bad times” in a single round result in a stroke penalty, but the Tour has not issued a stroke penalty for a pace-of-play violation in nearly two decades.

“If you ask a player, pace of play is always an issue. There has never been a player meeting when someone didn’t talk about place of play,” said Paul Goydos, one of four player directors on the Policy Board. “I don’t know there is a lot they can do. This is more about a look at the game. Not a Tour problem but an overall problem that pace of play is hurting the growth of the game.”

The USGA announced a new pace-of-play initiative following the association’s annual meeting in February with a focus on “development of a pace-of-play model based on quantifiable data.” Although officials say the Tour study was not prompted by the USGA initiative, the two organizations will share findings officials said.

As the study applies to the Tour, the central issues of slow play have been well covered.

“Where we hope ShotLink helps is understanding the different effects of pace of play,” Dennis said. “How many players are on the course, how weather impacts pace of play? We can understand relatively each player’s pace. It’s an approximate snapshot for the overall Tour.”

What remains to be seen is whether changes made at the highest level of the game can impact pace of play at the club and elite amateur level.

“Everybody wants to play faster, but there is a majority of players who don’t want to make fields smaller,” Goydos said. “In my opinion if we took our fields from 156 to 120 (players) in the summer we would play faster, but is that worth losing all those playing opportunities? No, I don’t think so.

“At the club level the way to make play faster is to have fewer people play. (But) we are trying to grow the game and we want to play faster. It is a little bit of a Catch 22.”

Although the Tour has largely downplayed the issue of slow play in recent years, the 12-month study is not seen as a change of direction by Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

“I don’t know if this is a change in policy. It is something that we are not going to say a whole lot about until we get through it,” said Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of communication and international affairs. “It’s not something that should be seen as a change or not a change. Just something we are looking at.”