It's one of the hottest topics in golf and the European Tour have announced a four-point plan to eradicate slow play. Steve Carroll explains
Anyone who has ever yelled at their TV screen watching another group crawl round a golf course will have something to cheer next season after the European Tour unveiled a new hard-line stance on slow play.
A four-point plan, coming into effect at the start of next year, will see players potentially given shot penalties quicker, will require all members to pass an interactive online rules quiz as part of retaining their membership, and will see fines for consistently slow players increased significantly.
The policy was approved last month by the tour’s tournament committee, which mandated chief executive Keith Pelley to be “even firmer in dealing with the issue”.
The plan was announced barely a week after Bryson DeChambeau was pilloried on social media for his perceived pace-of-play at The Northern Trust during the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup play-offs.
Although the new approach officially comes into effect at the start of 2020, it will kick off in earnest next month when a trial pace-of-play system is unveiled at the flagship BMW Championship at Wentworth.
That will give referees the precise times for every group, through every hole, to ensure that no gaps are missed.
On tee-displays, linked to the system, will provide the players with immediate information on their position in relation to the group in front.
Pelley said: “We are already at the forefront of pace of play management in the professional game, but after being mandated by our tournament committee to be even firmer in dealing with this issue, the time was right to take these additional steps.
“I believe the plan we are implementing for the 2020 season will bring about meaningful change that will make golf even more enjoyable for the players and our fans, whether they are at the course in person or watching on television.”
The plan revolves around regulation, education, innovation and field sizes. Players would only need to breach time allowances twice during a round to pick up a one-shot penalty, while a player who consistently offends is going to be hit hard in the pocket.
A ‘slow’ player timed 15 times next season will have to pay £26,000 in fines. This year, they would only fork out £9,000.
The amount of time players have to execute a shot when they are being monitored while in position is being cut by 15 per cent, and referees are being given licence to target known slow players for ‘position timing’.
Education is also a key part of the Tour’s plans, with all new members assigned a ‘dedicated’ referee to educate them on pace-of-play as they embark on their journeys.
Existing members will have to pass an online rules test towards the end of this year, with all new members following suit early in 2020. Players will have to repeat this every three years.
And sizes at full tour events are being reduced from 156 to a ‘minimum of 144’ players providing that players in Category 18 and above get into the field.
European Tour vs. slow play: The plan
When players are out of position and either being monitored or timed, a one-shot penalty will be incurred after two bad times. Currently a player would be ‘monitored’ and if he breaches the time allowance (50 seconds for first to play, 40 seconds for second or third to play) he will then be ‘officially timed’ and would then have to breach twice more before being given a one shot penalty. Players will, however, have the option to request one time extension per round, giving an additional 40 seconds to hit a shot on this request.
‘In position timing’, introduced at the same time as monitoring, has been strengthened. The time allowed to play a shot when being monitored in position (currently double the out of position times above), will be reduced by 15 per cent from 100 and 80 seconds down to 85 and 70 seconds respectively for first and second/third to play. Referees are now mandated to be proactive in targeting known slow players for in position timing.
Fines for consistently slow players who are regularly officially timed during the season will increase significantly. For example, a player who is timed 15 times in the 2020 season will have to pay £26,000 in fines as opposed to £9,000 this season.
All new members will be assigned a dedicated referee to help educate them on pace of play at the start of their European Tour career.
As part of retaining their membership, every member will be required to pass an interactive online rules test with this being implemented for existing members towards the end of the 2019 season and all new members early in the 2020 season. This will be repeated every three years for existing members.
Regular educational videos will be produced by the European Tour’s social media team on key rules and pace of play policies and shared with the players throughout the season in an effort to avoid unnecessary rulings and ensure they better understand the Pace of Play policy.
A trial pace-of-play system will be conducted at the BMW PGA Championship from September 19-22, 2019. This will provide referees with the times for every group through every hole to make sure that no gaps are missed.
As part of this system, and in a ground-breaking development, on-tee displays on a minimum of three holes will provide groups with their position in relation to the group in front.
4. Field sizes
Field sizes at fully sanctioned events will be reduced from 156 to a minimum of 144 so long as all entered players in Category 18 (the final 111-125 on the previous season’s Race to Dubai) and above make it into the event. This will create space for referees to push groups over the Thursday and Friday rounds.
Larger starting intervals will be built into play on Saturday and Sunday to create a better flow between groups.