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The Real Slow Play Culprit: "The (unnecessary) need for speed"

My column in the new Golf World on the costly pursuit of faster greens and how they are slowing up the sport and maybe even causing too many folks to jam a putter grip into their tummies.

The column is a part of Golf World's annual Architecture Issue, which also includes a nice spread on super-short one shotters by Ron Whitten and a profile of Mike Keiser by Jeff Silverman. Not to mention a killer Tiger photo by JD Cuban and a host of other goodies.

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Reader Comments (29)

It's not hard to play quick. Walk fast. Get ready to play when its your turn and mark your card on the way to the next tee.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterLongy
I was surprised with this group that no one comment that Tiger and Graeme were a full hole behind at the end of the last tournament. They seemed to be putting on 17 when the previous group was finished with 18. It ended up resulting in LONG commercials between moments of shots shown.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMattS
right on
03.14.2013 | Unregistered Commentercarl v.
I am not sure fast greens have caused slow play or anchoring.

There are benefits and disadvatanges from fast greens. Personally I find the need for a shorter stroke is helpful (the longer the stroke the more offline I can become). Also, the ball tends to funnel down to low spots and not stick on slopes. Now the bad part is anything out of place and downhill but that is course management.

I grew up on fast greens and now play on very fast greens so maybe I am used to them but so should the pros.

I am a 2, walk a 7000yd hilly course with a few longer walks between tee and green and play in 2:45 hrs if no one is in front of me. And I am not sprinting. I'll play a links course with no one in front of me in 2:15. It is not that hard to play quickly. Granted the pros are playing for a lot of money.

I will say that in order to stay sane and keep ones tempo one has to play at teh pace of others in competition. So if one group slows they all slow.

Awful, big issue for the game.

03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim
In my opinion slow play is caused by the following:

1. Putting takes forever!! Players fell they have to look at every angle and some players don't start looking until its their turn.
2. Players now won't hit a shot until fully committed. They take a long time to consider every possible condition.
3. Walking! People walk so damn slow. (although most PGA pros actually walk pretty fast)
4. Clueless! Players are clueless about how long they are taking. Nearly NO ONE thinks they're a slow play.
5. Course design and setup. Courses are harder, greens are faster, ball searches, etc.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterFLGolfer

I agree with that part...but your 2:45 and 2:15 walks are when you play alone, correct?
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
Fast greens have pretty much always been a badge of honor for clubs. It's just in the past decade or so with the advent of new strains of grass, chemicals and the all important greens roller that they are stimping at ridiculous speeds. There are MANY private clubs around the country that are taking some slope out of their more undulating greens so they can keep the speeds at crazy levels. It has become an obsession and as long as you have members at clubs like Oakmont who love to brag about "slowing down the greens for the U.S. Open" it will continue to be a problem.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSun Mountain Man
Fast greens may be a contributing factor to slow play, but it is not the "culprit". At the end of the day, acceptance of slow play is the culprit. If slow play was unacceptable and slow players were ridiculed publicly, the problem goes away. I have often posted my public humiliation solution on this website, it would work. Make me the slow play czar, I have the problem corrected in 1 year, or less.
I'm reasonably fast except on and around the greens because I am a terrible putter and I lock up/slow down.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKeithT
"I thought only horses slept standing up" has worked for me in the past, albeit for a just the next couple of holes.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAG
The speed of the greens isn't necessarily the problem. It's the speed combined with some pretty wacky contours that is just asking for people to 3 or even 4 putt that slows down play. Fast and relatively flat greens people seem to be able to adjust to
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad
There is a lot of slow play at municipal courses and they have neither fast nor highly contoured greens. My observation is that there a lot of really bad golfers. They hit the ball sideways, top it, lose it, etc. and when they get to the green chip it back and forth and then take a lot of putts. At the other end of the spectrum are the low index players who play deliberately like the guys on TV. I played on one of the amateur tours for a while with a scratch/min tour group and a couple of flights. The flighted guys always hated to get behind the scratch guys because they were the slowest.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn R
I just played one of the fancy desert courses in So. Ariz. I got paired with a couple who lost 21 balls in the desert and it would have been more it I didn't beg them to "pick up and put it in your pocket." We would still be out there with the coyotes howling if I wasn't there to "help them along". And these folks shelled out $200 to play! Amazing.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
The pros should be allowed to take as long as they want. There's a lot of money on the line. They're the top players in the world competing for championships. I could care less how long the pros take to play a round. The slow play problem is an amateur problem. The people holding me up are on the courses I play - and that you, the reader, play. They are the ones who will not let you play through. Bad players play slower because they hit bad shots or lose balls. They are determined to read every putt from three directions only to miss again and again. We've all been behind this. I don't claim to be very fast; I get slowed up sometimes when I have to look for a ball.
The real issue is being observant and considerate. When you have space in front of you and people waiting...let them through! If you are behind people who are obviously going slow. Drive up and ask to play through. If they refuse, call the clubhouse and make them enforce the game's etiquette. Keep asking them when you catch up to them again.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBryan
The higher the green fee the slower the round.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
Bryan: Unfortunately, the amateurs that are holding up everyone take their clues from what they see the pros do on television. Right or wrong, that's what happens. Part of the problem is that even tour pros won't swing until they've computed a yardage from every possible source, and there's not one of them that's good enough to put a different swing on a shot that's 190 yards as opposed to 192. Is there anything more irritating than seeing a ball sitting in the fairway, 1 yard away from a sprinkler head, and watch the pro line himself up to walk off that 1 yard to do the math? Hit the damn ball and get on with it!
03.14.2013 | Unregistered Commenterrgw
Bryan: And where do you think these slow amateurs are learning how to overthink on the course...from other Ams???

The pros on TV set an example for the rest of the game to follow, whether we admit it or not. They shape the game from the top down. It's always been that way dude.

IMO sow play is mostly caused by not being ready when it's your turn. And most folks have NO idea when their turn starts so on every hole, they each waste 20-30 seconds just spacing out before each shot. Multiply that by the # of golfers in a group and you get rounds that take 45 min longer...most of which is spent just standing around muttering under your breath "just hit the friggin thing already"

It's not that hard. Use the time when others are hitting to plan your shot, if you're the short/shadow knocker in your group...then remember to walk faster to your ball. If you see you hit the far end of the green and the rest are somewhat closer...walk faster and get in position. If one learns the true flow of the game..pace of play takes care of itself.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
Bryan: I guess they shouldn't have a clock in chess either then :)

Golf is meant to be played at a brisk pace...just because you are playing for higher stakes doesn't give you the right to "break" the unwritten etiquette of golf. Whenever I play any high end private course, anywhere in the USA, virtually all the members are very proud of their "pace of play" - I've never taken more than 3 1/2 hours to play any course (and I , and most of my friends, are not single digit, or ever good double digit golfers)

In England they have clubs where they only play foursomes - alternate shot, like the ryder cup...they finish in well under 3 hours.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterManku
My home course (a muni) recently firmed up and with a short trim the greens were operating significantly faster than normal. I found the speed of play, while not normally fast, had slowed significatnly. I was looking carefully to see why and I concluded that it was 1) approach shots that normally hold were bouncing/rolling over the green 2) due to the green sloping predominantly back to front, the chips and pitches were coming back down the hill and often going over again 3) lag putts from distance, coming from players who normally putt well enough to tap in their 2nd, were ending in the 4-6 foot range and requiring a full routine.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPGT
Booby D and Amen have it licked. My course, a resort affiliated with the Hall of Very Good, is a "bucket list" destination for many aging golfers who are gonna get every damn penny they spend out of their round. Five hour rounds are the norm, though our early-bird members that plat "ready golf" can get around in less than three hours. Too many folks on course that need to spend a little more time on the range.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad S
Making a comparison to chess is beside the point, and I realize that people act like the pros and that contributes to the problem. At the same time, it takes a second to look at things sometimes. When your trying to make a clutch or tricky putt / chip taking the extra time is worth the stroke. I'll take as much time as I need to play. I don't usually take that long, but if I see that someone is playing faster behind me, I wave them through.

The point is that if you are holding people up, then you should let them play though. It's about being aware of what's going on. I've only once ever played a round in 3 1/2 hours, but I could care less. To the fast player, as long as the slow group lets you through the first time it's convenient then there is no slow play problem. There's a slow play problem because people don't pay attention and don't let people play through when they ask or when they otherwise should. It's a problem of lack of courtesy and not observing the etiquette.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBryan
When you put tee times at eight minute intervals, then let everybody tee off as soon as the group ahead hits they're approach shot (most likely not a GIR) of course it is slow. The pace of a course never has a chance. Add in cart players who driver together to each ball (instead of the scatter pattern of walkers) it slows down even more.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave
What if courses made you pay after the round depending on how long it took to finish the round?
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
Bobby D,

You are correct, those times were for me alone. I guess I was trying to get at if there were 2 of me in a PGA group it would move along pretty fast.

I should add my course is a 75 rating and a 143 slope. Heavily bunkered, trees and a lot of movement on the green. I'll play with another guy who is decent and not that quick and we'll play in 3 hrs.

I played Dornoch last year in one of the early times with a good friend. He is about a 15 or 16. We finished Dornoch in 2:35 (the weather was perfect).

Just for some context.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim
Don't see an issue here. You're talking about a small percentage of golf clubs and high end daily fee courses. The bulk of golf courses do not have 'fast' greens. The largest issue for the vast majority of courses is cramming too many players onto a course at one time. Tee times are too close together. Combine that with people who don't know golf cart etiquette and there is your slow play issue.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHilltop
I'll add that at the local course (read: no memberships), alcohol can become a factor. I no longer imbibe on the course, because I want to play well, but I have a hard time thinking of another sport where alcohol is freely sold to sportsmen during their sport; it certainly does not speed up play.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRJ
To me the biggest culprit is people not employing the concept of ready golf. This is such an easy thing to do yet nobody does it. A Ready Golf campaign by the USGA would have been money much better spent than the Tee It Forward campaign.

I also like the idea of continuous putting.
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Geoff, not sure fast greens cause much slower play. I have a friend that's a member at Oakland Hills and those are some fast nasty greens and slow play is not an issue.
Difficult courses, no idea of etiquette, corporate golf all contribute to the problem.

As for letting people play through, on a busy course that just puts the problem on the next group behind, the solution is speed up. Having a hacker in your group on a slow day is different.

One major problem I see is amateurs playing the wrong tees,just because you ONCE hit a 270 yard drive does not mean you should be playing from tees at 6500+ but players do it all the time. Courses, in the interest of keeping everyone happy just let the slow play problem continue when they should have a CLEAR policy printed on the scorecard, clubhouse and first tee. But trying to keep everyone happy just angers the majority of golfers who do understand the correct pace.
A major reason I joined a club was pace of play on public courses, just could not enjoy the game at 5+ hours.
That's my rant
03.14.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKG
Educating players has some bearing on slow play but I think the major reason is behavioral. People don't want to play fast, even if they know how, they don't. And I think there has always been slow play, pace hasn't gotten slower, more and more people are fed up because they have less free time.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohn

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