The fight to curb slow play starts with our clubs
It’s those visitors who sneaked out as a five, it’s the group that won’t let you through when they’re hunting for a ball, or it’s the player who thinks the midweek Stableford is a conduit to the PGA Tour. I’m going to add another slow play factor to the list.
When the fingers are being pointed, some golf clubs should hold their hands up too – specifically those that attempt to maximise revenue by cramming in tee times.
In their illuminating document on Pace of Play, the R&A recommend that twoballs are sent off at intervals of at least eight minutes.
For threeballs, that figure increases to at least 10 minutes while, for fourballs, it’s advised the gap rises to as much as 12.
If you’ve got a mix of twos, threes and fours, the governing body says the largest interval should apply.
But how many of your clubs do that? Honestly, how many clubs have tee times that are spread a dozen minutes apart?
At my own, it’s eight minutes.
After a long opening par 5 and a shortish par 4, we move to our stroke 1 hole – a dogleg par 4 that sweeps round a corner. Close to the green lies a bell.
That’s because the longer hitters can take a large chunk off the corner in a risk/reward shot to make the approach easier.
So if there’s a packed medal weekend, it can back up. And, by the time that finally clears, we come to a par 3 over water where everything can get stuck again.
Factor in a couple of groups who get into some difficulty and it’s not long before everyone’s screaming blue murder about round lengths and slow play.
This isn’t a straightforward dilemma as it can present clubs with a difficulty.
The fewer the number of tee times, the fewer the number of players that can be on the course at any one time.
If a competition takes longer to complete, because the starting intervals are widened, how does that impact on the early-afternoon society, or visitors, who can’t play as and when they might wish? Would they go somewhere else?
For some, therefore, a bit of grumbling can be endured if the cash tills keep on ringing. Golf clubs, after all, are a business.
That’s not the only way clubs can influence the slow play debate. A qualifying competition, for example, need only be played from a measured course.
There are usually at least three sets of tees on any layout which meet that criteria. So why, in men’s competitions, are the whites so often the default length?
If you pop some yellow or red tee events into the calendar – with a yardage that can fall substantially lower than that off the tips – then you can also expect rounds to be quicker. The course may not be as difficult.
Of course, you’ll get those who complain they can’t play off the back but perhaps their bruised egos will be soothed when they hit a nett 72 instead of 77.
At some clubs, Alwoodley in Leeds being a notable example, this is already in place. Yellows are standard for men’s competitions and the whites, and championship blues, are preserved for marquee events.
We can all take fewer practice strokes and employ Ready Golf. We can hit a provisional and we can spend a little less time looking for the ball that’s so obviously lost.
But clubs can also play their part. If we can all work together then maybe the wailing about slow play might begin to quiet just a little.