How does a game of golf end up taking five hours?

The Scoop

The problem of slow play isn't just a scourge of the tour pros, it's very much alive and kicking in club golf as Mark Townsend discovered for this week's Notebook

People have been talking about slow play since, relatively speaking, the beginning of time. John Jacobs was writing about how the game was too slow and too expensive in the 1950s.

These days we have the added pressures of blanket coverage of worldwide tours, enormous courses, long walks to new back tees, poor weather, rapid greens, huge sums of money to play for, lines on balls, caddies lining up players and a multitude of other reasons why the game takes too long.

For all the talk of game-advancing equipment it remains a bloody hard sport to play, be it a 250-yard drive or a chip from 15 yards.

The very latest idea to help tackle the problem has been the Shot Clock.

Shot Clock

The same weekend as the European Tour players were put on the clock on every shot I was invited to a guest day where the field was packed at eight-minute intervals from 7.30am.

So what better chance to showcase the club and the course in a thriving light? Maybe entice a few new members?

Or, on the flip side, another opportunity to fall a little bit out of love with the game on a weekend? For family reasons this was the fourth round I had played on a Saturday in four years so I couldn’t wait to have a bit of ‘me time’ in a format where I wouldn’t have a scorecard in my hand.

Sounds ideal doesn’t it?

9.40am: The place is buzzing. Which is great but there are already three groups hovering around the 1st tee and we’re supposed to be off at 10.

10.12am: We tee off.

10.58am: You generally get a sense of how busy the course is and this is busy. And slow. Really slow. We haven’t had to look for a ball, nobody has had to stray on to another fairway and we’re picking up where applicable, but this is really slow. We have only finished three holes.

11.25am: We are now stood on the tee of the first of the short holes at the 6th. The group ahead has just teed off so we have another 10 minutes to chat and get to know each other better. In the meantime the group behind have caught us up and, in my head, are now looking at us like we are the slow ones. We all exchange sympathetic glances.

11.56am: I am stood in the middle of the par-5 8th fairway and I can’t hit as the group ahead are on the green and the group behind are on the tee. I wave them up to hit to try and save a bit of time and then play head tennis to watch them hit from behind me while simultaneously watching my playing partners disappear into the distance.

I, as so often happens on these occasions, top it about 80 yards.

12.37pm: I text home to make an initial apology that I probably won’t be home by ‘2.30 at the latest’. To be quite honest I can’t really see how we’ll be making our way down 16 by this time as we’ve only just ordered the sausages and teas. I offer to cut short the round and come home as this is now threatening to mess up about 15 people’s day. I don’t really mean it as this would make the rest of the round awkward with my playing partners.

Sausages

12.40pm: The most efficient part of this day is how they then turned around this food order in less than three minutes but, given the nature of the day, everyone stops at the halfway hut for a sit-down and a summary of the first nine holes and we console ourselves that the back nine is generally a bit quicker.

The food is tremendous and I spend half the 10th hole spilling tea down my front.

12.53pm: Get a reply saying to come home when I’m done. The pleasure of playing 18 holes easily outweighs the guilt but I then spend the rest of the 11th hole wondering what other hobbies I could take up that take less time.

1.32pm: A chance to play through with two of the group ahead looking for balls. But then what would be the point of hitting given that the whole course is clogged up and our two groups switching positions isn’t going to make any difference? There is no point, we have a five-minute chat on the 14th tee and the clock ticks on.

1.56pm: The standard of play gets increasingly ragged as we edge towards four hours on the course. The sandwich seems a distant memory, everyone has run out of water and snacks and the round starts to drift.

2.18pm: The guilt kicks back in. I should be at home by now and I’m stood waiting, again, on the 16th tee. A few days earlier two of us got round in two hours 36 minutes and we were held up by a club match for three holes. It was the most enjoyable round of the year and it feels like a completely different hobby to this one.

If anything we’ve slowed down.

3.07pm: Finally, we finish. There’s a bit of a queue on the 1st tee.

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