Finally! A solution to golf's slow play epidemic

The Scoop

The solution to the game's most talked-about obstacle has been staring all of us in the face, writes Mark Townsend in this week's Notebook

In a game of differing opinions the one thing we all like to agree on is how much we love a quick round and, with it, how much we despise slow play. There’s nothing better than trotting out the annual diatribe, generally around this time of year, of being tucked up in front of Sky Sports with a pint in the clubhouse having careered round in less than three hours.

“A quick game’s a good game,” somebody will pipe up and these words of wisdom will be met with a collective nod.

Slow play. Forget anything else that you might not like about the game, the one thing that supposedly sticks in everyone’s craw is not being on top of your game management and slowing everyone down.

Last weekend we got another demonstration of what can be done with a positive mindset and a clear course ahead of you as Ian Poulter raced round the Earth Course in Dubai in 69 shots – his best round of the week by three –and,  better still for the speed police, he did it in two hours and 22 minutes.

Only the day before Joakim Lagergren snuck round in just under three hours, he managed a 65. His previous two rounds were 76-79.

Who’s the slowest player in world golf? You’re now supposed to say Kevin Na. Well he got round East Lake in one hour 59 minutes, finishing with four birdies for a level-par 70.

Wesley Bryan has the record on the PGA Tour with a staggering effort of one hour 29 minutes, throwing clubs at his caddie (in a good way), holing out with wedges and sorting the flag out himself. He was round in 69. The group behind him were still on the 8th.

All of which neatly brings me to my manifesto for 2020 and beyond, it will need a bit of education so give it a year to bed things in. From 2020 onwards all tournament golf will be played in oneballs, fired out of the traps at six-minute intervals with just their caddie and scorer for company.

Yes, this will require tens of volunteers but, looking at the bigger picture of no more five-hour slogs and subsequent world peace and harmony, that’s a small price to pay.

Tour golf first, then it gets siphoned down into the clubs.

Needless to say I’ve given this a lot of thought and have therefore provided a SWOT analysis of the future of the game with a collection of pros and cons…

Pro: There’s no more backstopping. The problem that reared its ugly head in June, the one that’s been around since the beginning of time, would be gone in a flash.

Con: Hole-in-one and fairway hole-out celebrations will be a bit weird as there’s just the three of you to prolong any high jinks.

Players gallery

Pro: There would be no scorecard blunders. Mark Roe might have won The Open with my system in place.

Con: There’s the slight chance that teeing off first might get a bit repetitive.

Pro: Everybody will have to snap out of the habit of informing all and sundry that they’re in a divot, plugged lie or any other tiresome excuse for not hitting a good shot.

Con: It doesn’t exactly lend itself to famous battles down the stretch, a la The Duel in the Sun.

Pro: Things will just be a bit simpler and less affected. Just be yourself, it will be fine.

Con: The Tiger Red on Sunday loses its effect slightly given that there’s nobody there to intimidate.

Pro: There would be no more awkward chat and mundane questions of whether your playing partner is going to be stuck on the same loop of Portugal-Spain-Morocco in the coming weeks or whether he has family or not – it’s just you, your caddie and some poor unfortunate marker.

Con: It does put some undue pressure on the player-caddie relationship so there might be a few more sackings than normal.

Pro: This is the perfect way to show off the game, everybody will shoot in the 60s and there will be more time to sign autographs, give clinics and appease sponsors.

Xander Schauffele and Justin Rose

Con: There will be a certain level of having to re-wire your professional brain, the ‘play well’ just before pulling the trigger on No. 1 and the cap off-clamp hands-pat back move that you’ve spent the past decade perfecting.

Pro: It’s pure golf with no more going to school on someone else’s putt or club changing when you’ve seen your playing partner come up short and wet. It’s just you, your caddie, your instinct and your two copies of the Green Book.

Con: Fields will have to be on the small side and the days of 156 hopefuls starting the week will be done with. I haven’t thought this properly through in terms of a two-tee start but by shoehorning in two lots of times we might get the numbers up around the 120 mark.

Pro: Think how slow golf is for the fan who pays his way through the gate, think how much more entertaining it will be to have a merry-go-round of shots to watch. It will be a positive blur.

Con: The starter’s going to hate it, Ivor Robson would never approve.

Pro: There’s no silly pantomime charade of talking through who’s got the honour and the new initiative of ‘ready golf’ gets off to a flying and uncomplicated start.

Con: You need to call in a referee to ask permission to repair a pitchmark.

Pro: You can make as much noise as you want. Cough at all the wrong times and jangle your loose change – there will be nobody there to care.

Con: My argument rather hits the buffers a bit when it comes to matchplay week.

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