The Rules: How England Golf are tackling slow play
There is not a hotter topic in golf than the subject of slow play – and England Golf are doing something about it “Let’s go, while we’re young!” – Rodney Dangerfield’s killer line in Caddyshack succinctly sums up frustrations felt in every clubhouse in England on medal days. Be honest.
Is there anything more annoying than standing in the middle of the fairway watching your playing partner take his eighth practice swing, only to top the ball 20 yards and then repeat the whole process?
In countless surveys, slow play comes up time and time again as the biggest bugbear for members. The game seems to be taking longer than ever. It’s not just a problem at club level.
Jordan Spieth found himself on the clock at the Masters and, earlier in the year, the two-time Major champion got a slow play warning in Abu Dhabi.
So with the time it takes to play a round regularly cited as putting people off playing the game, England Golf are tackling the issue head on.
The body’s championship committee were expecting fireworks at their top tournaments as their new pace of play policy hit top gear.
And they came at the very first event, when a referee had to put his wife on the clock at the English Senior Women’s Amateur at Rosson-Wye.
But they won’t shy away from any controversy.
“There are (some players going to be caught out) and, hopefully, that is the case,” said James Crampton, England Golf’s championship director.
“I certainly would say we are not going in there trying to penalise players but it is inevitably going to happen.
“It’s a bit like diving in football. If you apply a few yellow cards to those people who do it then it will soon slowly eradicate the problem.
“Hopefully, this will do that and we will apply a few penalties to some slow players and the message will get round really quickly that we actually are intending to get people playing quicker.”
There was lively debate when the policy was unveiled to the championship referees at an England Golf seminar. Huge variations were recorded when they were asked to time players in a number of different scenarios, and what was defined as “out of position” also provoked some debate.
Crampton added: “There was always an assumption that on the tee, and on the green, was in position. What the new policy says, in terms of a starting gap, is 10 minutes and that should actually be off the tee and walking down the fairway at that point.
“Ultimately, groups have probably been two or three minutes out of position in the past and have not had anything done to them.
“It’s a change of mindset for players and officials. On the tee and on the green is actually out of position and is not something they should just leave alone.”
“The big thing about the new policy is that we want to get people who were previously in position, but holding play up, moving faster,” he continued.
“We want to give the referees the ammunition to encourage, or get groups that are holding play up, to move at a reasonable speed.”
Top championship events have a luxury that most rankand-file clubs will not enjoy. With referees on hand to enforce the rules, round times should speed up swiftly at the flagship tournaments as players realise what is expected of them.
But Crampton believes the policy could still help clubs get their events going quicker.
He explained: “Clubs are going to have to look differently in terms of how they can get people round and improving start time intervals, maybe putting a few gaps in and then looking at how the golf course is set up.
“They don’t have the advantage of four or five referees on the course that are continually monitoring groups as they go round the course.
“It’s quite a shift from what we have done in the past. We are trying to speed things up.
“The pleasing thing with our policy is that it looks like similar organisations are doing likewise. If we can do our little bit just to speed things up by five or 10 minutes, that will make all the difference.”