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Five things your club can do to end slow play

Five things your club can do to end slow play

We can blame the tours and we can blame players but, as Steve Carroll argues, our clubs can do quite a lot to cure the cancer of slow play
 

If we can thank JB Holmes for one thing it’s that the American’s latest act of dawdling might see us reaching a tipping point on slow play.

If the righteous – and rightly placed – fury from golfers all over the internet is anything to go by then we might at last have a consensus that crawling round a course is now an enemy of the state.

Now, don’t expect me to suddenly start advocating speed golf as the future. I’m one of those people who accepts, and embraces, that 18 holes is going to take a while.

But if the clock face is whirring like something out of Back to the Future then it’s not just up to golfers, but clubs as well to play their part in getting everyone round a little bit faster.

It hardly has to be sending a rocket to the moon, either. Here are five easy things you can press your clubs on to help us all save some precious seconds the next time you’re at the course…

1. Bring in a pace of play policy

The Rules of Golf offer a number of ‘recommendations’ to ensure a prompt pace – making a shot in 40 seconds is one that everyone mistakes for a rule.

They, of course, are open to interpretation.

But that doesn’t stop your club jumping in with both feet to set some strict limits. Committees can adopt a local rule setting a Pace of Play policy.

That actually gives them some quite wide powers. The policy can set a maximum time to complete a round, a hole, or even a stroke, and those who don’t follow those rules can be penalised for causing an unreasonable delay.

Sanctions can range from a stroke, in the first instance, to disqualification. So just because the tours aren’t getting to grips with slow play doesn’t mean your club can’t.

2. Spread out tee times

I fear you’re going to be fighting a losing battle here, but this is such an easy starter for 10.

Clubs are businesses and the more tee times you can cram in during an hour the more cash you can make.

Clubs are also under big pressure on Saturdays. The days of golf membership as a status symbol are long gone. If you’re paying £1,500 a year, you’re going to play and you’re largely going to try and do that on a weekend.

But eight-minute starting intervals are utterly ruinous for pace of play. Too many players are on the course at the same time and, as soon as you hit an early par 3 or a group gets into a bit of trouble, a traffic jam ensues.

Increase those starting intervals to ten minutes for threeballs and 12 for fourballs, as recommended in the R&A’s Pace of Play Manual, and you’ll dramatically reduce the amount of time you’re stood idling around on the tee fighting frustration.

3. Cut the rough

Tiger Woods

I start to twitch uncontrollably when I see an average layout describe itself as a ‘championship course’. Royal Birkdale is a ‘championship course’.  Yours is not.

Yet those two words are also synonymous with a couple of other things – back tees stretching up to 7,000 yards and rough that makes a US Open look like an American Ryder Cup venue.

There is no surer way to a five-hour medal round then knee-high, ball hiding, confidence destroying, fescue reaching up to your hips in mid-summer.

The three-minute rule will help, for sure, but if you’ve got three groups on a par 5 all spread out left and right vainly hunting for a ball in the thick bund then it doesn’t really matter if it’s three or ten minutes. The hole is still going to take an eternity.

But some clubs and committees don’t think a course is a proper test unless it’s playing like Carnoustie.

4. Name and shame

If the carrot of cajoling isn’t working, and you’re not appealing to the better nature of these tortoises, then just wield the stick.

Most of us know the culprits – the players that are making eight practice swings before every shot and then chunking it 20 yards before going through the whole tortuous process again.

Next time they’re holding everyone up – and are unrepentant about it – get the committee to put their names up on the notice board. Let the entire club see who are causing the problems.

If that doesn’t work, then stop them playing in competitions until they’ve learned how to get a move on.

5. Mix up the tees

2006 US Open

I know a lot of men out there think any event that isn’t held off the very back tees is somehow questioning their masculinity, but does every single competition have to be held off the tips? Don’t you get bored?

All a qualifying competition has to be played on is a measured course. So why not take on the reds and yellows as well as the whites?

A shorter course can very often mean a quicker round. And, even better, why not just get rid of the traditional colours and rate those various options on ability rather than gender?

Most of us would probably have a much more enjoyable round on a 6,100-yard course rather than a 7,100-yard monster.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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