The findings of a Pace of Play Symposium at St Andrews will send out an unexpected message to tournament organizers, course designers, the committees of golf clubs and the proprietors of pay-as-you-pay establishments.
During two days of presentations and debate by 60 leading figures from the amateur and professional game in Europe it emerged emphatically that the main reasons for slow play are bound up in the way competitions are run and courses are set up.
Individuals playing slowly is regarded only as a contributory reason for rounds of five and six hours and more. A whole catalogue of other causes were identified and accepted by the assembled administrators who returned to their own organisations with a determination to address the problem in a different light.
One of the most pressing problems highlighted was that of sending out groups with too little time between them, thus creating tailbacks in much the same way as occurs with heavy traffic on a busy road. The more vehicles bunch up tightly together the slower the traffic moves.
In golfing terms this means that, by trying to get an excessive number of players around on a tight schedule, possibly for commercial reasons, the course becomes log-jammed with groups too close together and the pace of play gets slower and slower.
The R&A have discovered the truth of this syndrome themselves in The Open Championship. By extending the gap between starting times up to eleven minutes the pace of play has picked up to the point where there were no five-hour rounds at Muirfield in 2002.
In contrast, where resort course administrators book in groups at, say, seven minute intervals in order to increase the volume, the system becomes counter-productive as log-jams develop and play gets slower and slower throughout the day. The practice of ‘cramming players in’ has been described as “an entirely false economy”.
Other important reasons pinpointed for slow play were:
deep rough being allowed to form in areas where golf balls are most likely to get lost
newer lengthy courses, often with a considerable walk between green and next tee
and, surprisingly some might feel, new technology.
For those golfers who strike the ball in excess of 300 yards, the shorter par fours are more like par threes (sometimes reachable, or nearly so, off the tee) while most par fives have become ‘two shotters’, again causing hold-ups.
The symposium was conceived by David Pepper, Chairman of the R&A’s Championship Committee, following numerous complaints from varying sources concerning the escalating problem.
Among the speakers were Peter Dawson, Secretary of the R&A, Niall Flanagan of the St Andrews Links Trust, Bill Yates of Pace ManagerTM Systems, an acknowledged specialist, Graeme Marchbank, former rules official on the Ladies Tour, now director of golf at Gleneagles, John Paramor, Chief Referee on the European Tour, and Julie Wade, leading amateur golfer for many years and now a member of the R&A secretariat.
“We know that play has become ever slower over the past 100 years,” said David Pepper. “However, slow play is one aspect of golf over which we can have some measure of control, given the right conditions.”
Peter Dawson concluded the proceedings by saying, “The R&A is committed to combating slow play and will continue to progress initiatives in order to speed up the round of golf.”
“The PGA of Europe can play its part by reminding golf professionals that every newcomer to the sport, and indeed all golfers, must be taught the basics of good etiquette,” said Lawrie Thornton who attended the symposium. “When players start off with a whole range of good habits in terms of how to keep their match moving along, they never lose their awareness of pace of play. This is the contribution we can make.”
As a result of the findings of the symposium a variety of measures will be communicated throughout the game in order to attempt to bring about a general improvement without simply criticizing the players.
Five-Point Plan to avoid delays
From the discussions at St Andrews, an initial ‘Executive Summary’ of the symposium has been devised.
It was concluded that a great deal of thought and effort is required from those who provide golfing opportunities at all levels, before the process of pinpointing individuals is undertaken and dealt with.
The five main points were:
Overcrowding the golf course must be avoided. Starting intervals should be widened.
Play from the most appropriate tee. Don’t make the hole positions too difficult.
Ensure that the length and location of the rough avoids numerous lost balls and that the speed of the greens is reasonable.
Adopt favourable sequences of holes to avoid bottlenecks (i.e. an opening par 5 followed by a difficult par 3 is a recipe for slow play).
Communicate with the players. Tell them what is expected of them, their starting time, to exercise good etiquette at all times, to be ready to play when required.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews www.RandA.org