Is a shot clock the answer to golf's slow play problem?

The Scoop

Getting the Fourball treatment this week: The Shot Clock Masters, the one course you'll play for the rest of your life, golf vs. football, and would you call out a cheat?

Each week, four of the NCG team get together to ask each other the pressing questions. The only rule is the question must be golf related. In this edition, Alex Perry, Mark Townsend, James Savage and Keel Timmins take to the tee to discuss battling slow play at the Shot Clock Masters and much more…

Alex: You can only play one golf course for the rest of your life, which do you choose? It must be one you’ve already played…

Mark: This old chestnut, lovely. I’ve not played County Down which seems to be the top of everyone else’s list so I’d go with Kingsbarns just ahead of Dornoch. I’d say the latter is a better course but if I was going to be doing loops of it into old age then I’d go with Kingsbarns. I couldn’t imagine ever getting bored of either, both clubhouses are very normal and I might eventually get the hang of the 15th.

James: This is really hard. I’m going to say Sunningdale New. I don’t think I’d ever get bored of the halfway hut sausage sandwich or the par-5 6th. But it would involve moving down south which I’m not too keen on. If I had to play at Hillsborough for the rest of my life I wouldn’t mind at all.

Keel: If I can only play that course for the rest of my life then it’d have to be fun to play, fairly quiet and in good condition all-year round – so a links course. I haven’t played many truly great courses so I’ll go with West Cornwall, a place I’ve played many times and is a delight to play, with stunning views over St Ives Bay.

Mark: If you saw someone cheat, would you say anything? If it helps I probably wouldn’t as I don’t like confrontation…

James: It depends. If it was someone I knew and liked and we were playing in a competition and it was a minor offence, I think I’d keep quiet. We played in a comp the other week and I’m 95 per cent sure a player from a fourball a few holes ahead of us hit one of my playing partner’s ball. If I was 100 per cent sure who the player was I’d have reported it. Largely because they were being sarcastic and unhelpful when my playing partner asked them about it.

Keel: If it’s blatant cheating then I think I would. If it’s something minor, I’d let it pass. I played in a competition a while ago at my home course where I accidentally teed off the yellow tees instead of the whites. The tees were literally right next to each other. I probably gained about a foot on a 400+ yard par-4. My playing partner called me up on it after I’d hit and I’ve been bitter about it ever since.

Alex: If I was 100 per cent certain, then I like to think I would, whether it was my playing partner or opponent. You would hope that being caught and confronted would stop them ever doing it again.

James: Would you rather be, or have been, a top-50 golfer or an international star at a different sport? I think I’d have preferred to have played football for Sheffield Wednesday and England.

Ian Poulter outfits

Keel: I think I’d choose football purely for the financial security. You sign a bumper five-year contract with a Premier League team and you’re basically set for life. One bad golf season and you’re fighting for your tour card and career.

Alex: I have this discussion with my mates all the time. Both of your options will have you richer than you’re wildest dreams, and as much as I would loved to have been a footballer (for Manchester United between 1992 and 2008) I’m almost certain I would have chosen golf. Although the thought of living out of a suitcase stresses me out…

Mark: For the travel (in a good way), food, lack of physical contact, sights, following the sun and chance to play golf around the world I’d choose a golfer. I’d play a Steve Stricker-like schedule and have the best of both worlds. My main worry would be being obese at the end of it all. And I don’t like flying but I suppose you’d get used to all that.

Keel: Is a shot clock the best way to improve pace of play in professional golf?

Alex: Nope. The Shot Clock Masters is a good way to promote quicker play, but it’s nothing more than a gimmick. Slow players are excruciating to watch, but I’ve no problem with them taking their time given it’s their livelihood – so maybe it’s up to the TV companies to change the way their coverage is aired. The worst slow play culprits are you and me. You’re playing for a fiver, get on with it.

Mark: Players are supposedly timed every week if they fall behind but nothing ever happens. There is obviously a limit, like JB Holmes earlier this year when he took three days to lay up, but I’m probably less bothered than anyone about slow play on tour. I think they walk quicker than all of us, are playing for vast sums of money and their livelihoods, are playing longer and tougher courses and are in fields of 150+ players so they generally do OK.

We’re the biggest culprits. I played an evening round this week with a mate, we teed off at 7pm, caught up a fourball who started at 5.30 by the 13th and they wouldn’t let us through as they were worried about the light. We had to ask them on the 16th tee if we could play through as we were waiting on every shot. It was absolutely pathetic.

James: I’m not a fan of the shot clock at all. Some shots need more time than others. But some players are just blatantly too slow all the time. Everyone knows who the slow players are on tour and they need to be penalised rather than changing the game for those players who are generally pretty quick.

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